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Multiplying and top-setting onions...

19 years ago

Hello all!

After some time in Japan I have come back to the US, to a house with a small garden in back, something that I haven't had in a while. I've started wondering about two different types of onions I haven't grown before, which are top-setting (egyptian) and multiplier onions. The multipliers just seem like a handy plant to have--anyone have any feelings about the taste? Has it been worth it? As for the egyptians, I would like to grow them just to see the top-set!

So, my question...can anyone recommend a type--and a source--for either of these onions? Any reflections on either type would be wonderful. Thanks--hope you all are having an oniony day.


Comments (18)

  • 19 years ago

    Welcome home, ORiley.

    Your first step is to do a search here at the alliums forum, because we've discussed these things many times. So there's lot's of info for you to absorb. Then, if you still have questions, we'll be glad to chime in.

    Personally, I gave up the Egyptions because they are too invasive for a small patch. But they do produce the first green of the year in most gardens. Tastewise it depends on which part you eat. Most people grow them for the greens, which taste like any other scallions. The bulbils are much sharper in taste, almost on the hot side. Traditionally they were used for pickling.

    There are many varieties of multipliers, with Potato Onions, in several colors (brown, yellow, white---and there were, at one time, red), being the most common. Don't forget, too, that shallots belong to the same group.

    I particularly like multipliers because they can be fall planted, when there's not much else to do in the garden. They're very productive, but usually do not make overly large individual bulbs.

    Best source for any of these is Horus Botanicals. But there are other suppliers who offer one or two choices. And you might check the alliums exchange link to see what other's have to offer.

    Members of seed saving organizations such as SSE and AHSC also grow, and offer, multipliers of all kinds.

  • 19 years ago

    My dad planted some of these well over 30 years ago and wasn't caring for them very much. I have a cousin who also has some of these in her back yard that have been there probbaly as many years. I started to seperate and replant the bulbils once I saw them. Since that time, the amount I was originally going has been reduced about 200 times smaller. Right now, I have maybe 30 of these that send up greens in late fall after being planted. Now, the greens are taller and can be cut for use as scallions. The ones I grow have purple layers and have a distinct flavor similar to a shallot. At first, I thought these were shallots, but later found out that they were a walking onion. I don't know of any other type but the ones I grow. I used to get about 40-50 pounds of bulblets that I gave away to a local Agway store every fall. They can be invasive, but careful removal of the tops and digging up all bulbs in late summer will reduce any posibility of them overunning a small area. The size is about the same as a shallot too, with a bronze color outer skin. In recent years, I have even sent some of these to several readers in the forum, as well as some to an heirloom nursery/seed company. They do keep fairly well for about 3 or 4 months before they start to sprout or spoil. Mine are only available in the fall once the plants produce the clusters and have toppled over.

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    In our area, the Farm Coops carry "multipler onions" which are planted as sets in the fall. You pull the clusters apart and plant each little onion about six inches apart. They each make a cluster of green onions that grow larger (the cluster, not the onions) all winter. When I want green onions, I go out, dig up a cluster, replant at least one of them in that spot and bring the rest in. Even as cold as our winter was this year, I still have beautiful green onions to pull for the early spring lettuce. I have never tried saving the sets. May have to give that a whirl this year. These are what farmerdill was referring to. I'm just giving you a bit more info. The first time I planted them I had no idea what to expect and planted WAY too many.
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    A large basal bulb of walking onion (allium cepa proliferum) planted in fall around here will develop two or three strong shoots by spring. Left undivided, these will get to medium size, make a lot of topset bulbils and make medium size basal bulbs again by the next fall. A better way to manage them is to thin the shoots down to one by using them for green onions in the spring. Then you'll get a bigger main shoot, bigger topsets and a bigger basal bulb which can be used like a shallot in late summer and can be stored for a few months. Large topsets can be planted out in late summer to make small scallions by late fall or early spring. Small topsets in mid-summer can be pickled or used for cooking. I don't much experience with shallots, maybe someone else here is expert. As far as leeks, did you mean that you set out seedlings? I have never heard of 'sets' for leeks.
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    I love my multiplying onions. I plant some topsets right away for summer scallions, lots in fall for autumn scallions and overwintering, and more first thing in spring. They really will hold that long when cured like onions and stored at room temperature! The bulbs set out in spring are still good as scallions when the others are in topset mode. I also pull up the mother plants and cure them in summer, basically by throwing them in a pile in dry shade. (In my area, onions must be moved yearly or onion root maggots move in.) There is often a division that did not send up a stalk that harbors an elongated shallot. Any we don't eat can be replanted in spring.
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  • 19 years ago

    I usually get walking onion bulblets in June. Please email me your address. I'll send you some. If you would like some now, I can dig up the existing bulbs as well. I have plenty to share. They are delicious as green.

  • 19 years ago

    hi,cld you by any chance please send them to mee too,i'm new to the US and dont have any clue wht to buy wht not to,
    but i'm too tempted to let the lovely backyard go dull,especially since i have a lot of time now..i have already brt all kinds of tomatoes,peepers,herbs,flowers,bulbs well just cant resist the temptation,only 2 more items on my wish list this yr..onins,garlic..actually 3..potatoes..but dont have a clue wht kind of seeds to use then,,though i have been staying up late nights collecting info and have a lot of book knowledge now am not sure enuf how to go ahead with these 3..
    well,Thanks for reading,

  • 19 years ago

    I love these walking onions, to eat and to just watch grow. They are kind of unusual, and add charm to the garden. :) Arum

  • 19 years ago

    Anyone want Catawissa bulbils now? I still have a "few" left from last fall. That "few" is somewhere between a few hundred and a thousand! They were stored in the garden shed all winter and thus just now beginning to break dormancy. Plant, add water, and step back!


  • 19 years ago

    Hey Martin, when you say stored in the shed is that as in no-heat or is there some protection?

    What other alliums can or should be stored that way?

    I can understand removing the bulblets to keep them from spreading, but why would you remove the bulb also? Do you eat the bulb? Won't it just regrow next year?

    I ate my first Catawissa scallion today, I am hooked! The white part and green top were actually mild. Right where it part white and green was quite zippy! I expect that as the bulb matures, it will be pretty hot too. Most of what I have will be for multiplier stock so won't get to do too much 'testing'.

    About how many bulblets can I expect from each plant? I just planted about 2 dozen this year.

    How long will the bulblets keep under what conditions and how late in the season can you plant the bulblets for scallions? many questions...

  • 19 years ago

    So many questions, byrdzeye, but perhaps O'Riley wants to know them also!

    Affirmative on the no heat bit for the Catawissa bulbils in the garden shed. Actually in an open shoe box and exposed to the dry air. The main thing is to keep the bulbils dry. If they start, stop, and start growing again, they'll either rot or dry up to nothing.

    I'd say that any small multiplying allium bulb or bulbil could be stored that way. As long as they were properly dried and cured, they'd stay dormant for a long time. I-itoi bulbs also remained good through the winter although they dried out more than the Cats. Garlic bulbils also are not affected by such a simple storage system.

    Then comes confusion about the bulblet mention. Bulblets, of course, would be those smaller bulbs formed underground and alongside the parent or original bulb. You'll get 2 or 3 bulblets from planting a single bulb, or second year after planting a bulbil. While the initial bulb is making bulbils, it's also dividing. With Catawissa, you may end up with a clump of as many as a dozen plants after two years. That's simply from the bulblet production.

    For bulbil production, Catawissa may give you a dozen, more or less, in the primary cluster. Secondary cluster may have 25-30 smaller ones. Big ones may be used like regular pearl onions or planted back as fall scallions or brood stock. The small ones may be planted in very late fall for early spring scallions. Or they may be spring planted for June scallions.

    The large bulbs or bulblets won't store well. They want to start growing right away. Multiplying tree onions weren't meant for having their bulbs sitting around and doing nothing. They start growing again as soon as possible, with out without outside moisture. Smaller bulblets will cure or dry faster and store longer. No data available here on how long they'll store since they are meant to be planted right back again after refurbishing a bed.

    Clear as mud?


  • 19 years ago

    Actually I like to dig up the bulbs too, as these tend to reduce in size later on in fall and then just multiply in the soil the following year, making the area more densly populated with bulbs growing very close together. These tend to become very small. I find that the digging of the onions in late summer is a nice treat and if I have a lot, they get pickled, or chopped up and frozen. Mine have purple layers and are not hot, but have a mellow flavor. The greens on mine tend to be much stronger in smell and taste, so I actually don't use many of these as they are more than twice as strong as regular scallions. After the bulbils form and I pick out the largest ones for the fall planting, I usually give away the ones I can't use. Either through people here, or the local Agway store. Every year, whatever has formed at the top of the plants is planted, and whatever is in soil, gets dug up and consumed. They make for a really nice onion soup too.

  • 19 years ago

    Thanks for the info guys!
    I will digest this but I will be back with more questions!
    Thx again.

  • 19 years ago

    I noticed my first 2 curly tops from walking onions this week. They are SO cute! Thanx Martin - as usual the responses here are excellent.

    Jules, in PDX

    PS: Boy the slugs in Oregon sure love Martin's Catawissa Onions, AND the Garlic. I want these Slugs to be tested as a potential cancer cure...since I read the study about feasting on fat french snails (with lots of garlic!) being an effective breast cancer treatment. In my mind, allium-fed Oregon giants could heal the world! And the Pharmaceutical companees can send their Slug harvesters to my garden anytime.

  • 19 years ago


    From the *SAFER* site
    SLUG DOUGH: According to our friends at Organic Gardening, a great bait is a home brew that can be kept in your refrigerator: 1 Tbs. Molasses, 3 Tbs. Cornmeal, ½ c. flour, ½ c. water, and ½ Tbs. Yeast

    OTHER BAITS: Place into trap fermenting bread dough, lettuce, cabbage, sliced potatoes or turnips placed in salty or soapy water.

    How will the upper smaller bulbils do if replanted?
    will they overwinter two years and grow the 2nd year before they get to fully developed catawissas?

  • 19 years ago

    Bill, smaller bulbils will immediately produce small fall scallions, as mentioned. They'll survive the winter and start all over in the spring, about where they left off. For at least 6 weeks, they are good for ordinary scallions first and then chopped green onions next. Then they take off as a single plant and produce the noted stalk. Bulb division doesn't begin until after the bulbil production is under way.


  • 19 years ago

    Ken, come late summer when the topsets are ready perhaps we can make an exchange because it really does seem like we have different varieties, possibly old regional variations from Catawissa or Egyptian.

  • 19 years ago

    Could be.. Mine will probably have the tops about mid August or a bit before that. They are just now starting to form buds even though the weather has still been in the low 40's and raining since more than a week ago. I just hope that all the stuff I have planted doesn't rot from all this water and cold we are getting nailed with.

  • 18 years ago

    Hi all -

    I am presuming, from reading above, that Catawissa and the green "walking" onion are the same thing. Are they also the small pickling onions, or am I getting things mixed up?

    If anybody's got some that they don't mind sending my way, I live on the Sunshine Coast of BC, Canada. I have had some live plants sent to me just loose in a box from a friend in the U.S. who apparently didn't understand the restrictions on mailing living organisms, and apparently the customs people don't check everything they come across. Even though the box was damaged (severely), the little iris bulbs and two varieties of a suculant (very common - I just can't recall the name right now - mine are purple and white) all survived the trip and the dark! Anyway, if you're in Canada yourself it would probabaly make things easier, but if you're an American who is up for an experiment with the postal system and some onion bulbs, then please contact me and I'll send along my address.

    - Kenn / faerie

  • 17 years ago

    would appreciate a start of catawissa or egyptian top setting onions, preferrably not white as the yellow, red, brown etc are supposed to be healthier. About two dozen sets would be nice and I will be glad to pay for them and postage.

    Here is a link that might be useful: paquebot

  • 13 years ago

    I have a multiplying green onion. No name, but I think they are like the Evergreen variety, Very mild, does not bulb although they can get pretty big some years. Old variety given to me by my father-in-law. Last year I planted in the fall in a small bed. They multiplied like crazy and gave 8-10 new plants per setting. I pulled up in late summer and allowed to dry. Put back in ground in November and this spring I have very large green onions with thick necks (no bulb) and large "roots". Every single plant is seeding out on top with a flower pod, and not a one is "multiplying" below the ground like they did last year. Is this normal for this to be an every other year thing? If I leave some of the large onions in the ground will they just keep growing? ANy answer would help. Right now It looks like I will not get any little bulb roots to set in winter? Should I collect seed pods and sow seeds? HELP!