Where we live, the Vidalia is king of the onions. Every year allium lovers eagerly await the harvest of this sweet, juicy treat that adds tremendous flavor to all sorts of recipes. Problem is, the harvest season is only a few weeks in late spring and these onions don’t store very well. By mid-summer we are back to using the more pungent varieties that grocery stores offer; which may be fine for cooking but are sort of a let down for fresh use after Vidalias have run their course. Well there is an option.
Green onions vary greatly in their origins, flavors and uses. The term green onion refers to the fact that many of the bulbing onions (like Vidalia-type onions) are planted with the intention of using them before they mature. In this way, any onion can be used at any time after it sprouts. They make a serviceable substitution for chives when thinnings of seed-grown onions are chopped fine. At pencil-size, they are indistinguishable from scallions, and are often used in all of the same ways.
Green Onions vs. Scallions
Green onions are often confused with scallions, and because they are often used interchangeably maybe it doesn’t matter to a lot of people. As an onion lover and someone who enjoys planting crops for a specific use, I think it’s important to make the distinction. While green onions are unripe bulbing onions, scallions are onions that do not form bulbs. They are often called bunching onions because they form small colonies as the roots divide themselves while they mature. Both types can be planted from seed or from sets. The really cool thing about scallions is that they can be partially harvested and a few left to mature in the garden to produce sets that will begin the next crop.
Scallions For Winter
Because of their cold hardiness and rapid growth in our cool fall weather, we grow scallions for fresh use in Fall, Winter and Spring. Some of my favorite varieties include Hardy White Evergreen, White Lisbon, the popularly-called “Egyptian Walking Onion” that I always knew as “Top Set” until recently, and a Korean variety that my mother-in-law shared with me whose name I don’t know.
Fresh Onions Year Round
The benefits of growing scallions is in their flavor and timing. Green onions are usually only available late Winter through Spring, but scallions are available in my garden from September until July. Their flavor is consistently mild (until perhaps hot weather makes them a bit stronger), whereas the storage onions available in the off season are more pungent.
If you are growing scallions from seed, start early. I direct seed in my garden in September, but in the North you may want to seed them in Spring to get a good root system established. They can be started indoors and planted out when they get to six inches tall, or so. All onions prefer a well-groomed bed that has few weeds. If you are able to start from sets, that may be preferable because it will greatly reduce the time until you can harvest them. Starting from sets that I’ve saved, I begin harvesting when the roots begin to divide. When you first start them from seed, harvest them lightly when they are pencil sized.
Leave about 10-20% of the strongest bunches to mature in summer if you want to have sets to start your next crop. When the tops turn brown (around 50%), dig them up and let them dry. Separate the dried roots and plant them individually at the end of summer.