Oh onions. You are rewarding to grow, but I’m not always sure if you are worth it. Shallots? Yes, absolutely. Specialty onions like Cippolini? Yes. Bunching/Green Onions? You betcha. Regular old onions? Not so much (in my humble opinion).
Regular onions fall into the category of cheap to buy and easy to get, so I tend to pass on them (unless someone at the garden club or a neighbor brings over leftover sets, in which case I never say no!). Shallots are mad expensive no matter where you buy them and can be hard to find- they are also incredibly delicious. Cippolini are near impossible to find anywhere outside of a farmer’s market and they are a delight to grow and eat.
I have grown them from seeds (a pain) and I’ve grown them from both sets and plants. I prefer sets because they have a bit more wiggle room for getting them into the ground and are dead easy to plant (and easier to source). But you have loads of options either way. Let’s get stuck in.
Time to Maturity: Between the types of onions, there should be one to suit your growing conditions. These dates are if you are growing them from seed- your time will be a bit shorter if you go with sets or plants.
Shallots: 100 days
Cippolini: 80 days
Onions: 95-115 days
Bunching: 65 days (note: remember that in most locations bunching onions can be treated as perennials- much like chives- yay!)
Diseases & Pests: Thrips (gross), Boytritis Leaf Blight, Purple Blotch, Downy Mildew, Pink Root and Basal Rot. Many of these are fungal diseases and the fungi can survive years in the soil so practicing good crop rotation is a must. If you’ve got it and can’t get rid of it, do consider large containers like troughs or raised beds filled with fresh soil.
Key Words: You’ll want to look for flavor and size descriptors- do you like great big massive onions? Do you want them Vidalia-sweet? Or do you want some fire in them? The other big one is storage- presumably you intend to store the shallots and traditional onions- so there’s no sense wasting time and space on varieties that don’t store well.
Shallots: These are, in my opinion, best used lightly cooked or raw. In vinaigrette, salads, or as late addition to sauces. Their flavor is delicious and mild. For a decadent treat, roast them whole.
Cippolini: Fellow blogger Carolee from Herbal Blessings suggested marinating them and I’ve been smitten with the idea ever since. They are amazing. I also like to use them whole in stews and roasts.
Onions & Bunching/Green: You all know how to use these buggers! I do think the Bunching type are particularly great to have on hand since I rarely buy them and they are often the finishing flourish to many of the dishes we love.
Shallots: I’ve grown Zebrune from both seed and sets- I wouldn’t be without them!
Cippolini: Yellow Cippolini, they are fun to grow, mild and delicious, and don’t take up as much room as traditional onions.
Onions: Alisa Craig is a good sweet-ish stalwart and a lovely multi-purpose onion. It is relatively common, so you may be able to find sets easily.
Bunching: Evergreen Hardy overwinters here in Wisconsin beautifully and is a perennial- I did grow these from seed, but since they are perennials, it was a one-time task I was glad to undertake.
What I’ve Grown in the Past:
Dakota Tears onions are another lovely multi-purpose yellow onion. I can only grow it from seed so I’ve not had it for a number of years. Yellow of Parma is another great option. I’ve honestly not had bad luck with any onion I’ve tried, but for me the driver is what I can get available as a set.
What I’d Like to Try: This year I may try Dutch Red Shallots, but it will depend what types I can source at our local nurseries. This is the one down-site to using sets, its hard to know what your options will be until you are standing in front of the racks!
Now, do tell me all your tales of onions. What kinds do you grow and how do you grow them?