Potato Onion Harvest 2016
These Peasant Onions Are Amazing!

Dateline: 20 August 2016 AD

My first potato onion harvest.

Back on April 23 of this year I wrote about potato onions (Rediscovering And Restoring The Multiplier Onion). Potato onions were something new to me and I was excited about the prospect of an onion that perpetuated itself, sort of like garlic does. 

If I could grow onions every year without ever needing to buy sets or seed, that would be a great thing. 

So I ordered a pound of potato onion sets from the Maine Potato Lady. And I spring-planted that pound in a garden bed. Here's what they looked like when they started growing...

Here's another view, as they got a little bigger...

It was a droughty year here, and I have a sandy-silty soil, and the bed was raised, and I never watered the potato onions, but they still grew surprisingly well. 

It helped, I'm sure, that I did not space the bulbs too close when I planted them. And I kept the weeds out of the bed. And I maintained a shallow-cultivated "dust mulch." 

Every bulb I planted (except one) grew into a cluster of onion bulbs. They aren't cloves, like you have in a garlic bulb. They are a bunch of individual bulbs that connect to a single root. It's remarkable.

Here's a picture of the bulbs as I harvested them...

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, the bulbs range in size. None of them are really big. But some are a pretty good size. The one pound of seed bulbs I got from the Maine Potato Lady yielded 12 pounds of onions.

I was a little concerned that the potato onions might not taste like onions. But they do taste like onions. They are less sweet than the Copra onions I usually grow. But they have a true onion flavor. Marlene says they will work just fine for winter soups, which are a staple in our house.

I will choose out some of the larger, better-shaped potato onions for planting again in the spring. I'll still plant my favorite Copra onions but, based on this year's experience, these potato onions are something I expect to be growing for years to come.

I like to call these onions "peasant onions" because I can imagine that, back before there were mail-order seed companies and various hybrid onion varieties, these were the kind of onions that most rural people grew. They are a sustainable onion variety. You get yourself a pound or two of seed to start, and you can have onions for the rest of your life, without ever spending another cent. 


  1. Hello Herrick. We do the same thing with a similar type onion. My wife is Korean and in 2004 we went back to her country on a vacation. A popular onion over there is similar to your potato onion but the bottoms do not round out. She "smuggled" one set. One precious set, in her luggage on our return trip. I call them Korean bunching onions. I planted that first set upon our return and it produced about a dozen healthy green shoots that look exactly like our familiar green onions that grow singly. I now grow several beds of them each year...all descendants of that original ill got set.This fall I plan to tent one of my beds with clear plastic sheeting and try to grow them throughout the Winter. I really enjoy your new format and your "Upland Walks".

  2. My grandfather grew these onions for many years. I got some starters from his garden about 5 years ago when I started my first garden. They go strong every year. I enjoy pulling some early in the season and eating them with a meal, or right in the garden.

    1. Anonymous—
      I like the idea of you getting starter onions from your grandfather's garden. That's pretty special. I wonder if my grandchildren will be interested in doing the same one day? I sure hope so.

  3. Herrick, I grew these for the first time this year, too. I've read that you actually want to save smaller ones for replanting. My understanding is that they tend to multiply into larger bulbs. I really enjoy the taste too. Did you trey the greens? I thought the greens were fantastic. I had about a dozen flower and go to seed, which is unusual, from what I understand. I'm going to try to plant the seed.

    1. Hi Scott,
      The smaller ones for planting? Oh. I didn't try the greens. Wish some of mine went to seed. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Hi Herrick,

    This is Jim who originally emailed you back in April. Good to see your success here. As I said back then, I was on my second year. The first year I had gotten starters from Kelly Winterton. Mine all flowered and set seed. I grew hundreds from seed this spring and harvested those recently. All of those will have new genetic traits for which I will begin selectively keeping (based on things like storability through the winter, size, etc.) and replanting. I got lots of new varieties as to phenotype. Some first year's growth produced larger than baseball size onions, and I didn't even water or weed around them for the most part (due to letting tomato, cilantro and radish volunteers run free).

    My goal now is to have enough cloning stock to plant a 30'x4'bed and also to keep adapting the genetics with seeds each year. Winterton notes that over time, virus accumulation will cause clones to grow smaller and smaller over the years. Periodically raising out seed will invigorate.

    I'm in upstate NY. Every singel one of my fall planted bulbs from last fall set seed. Only a few of my spring planted bulbs set seed. So, for those wanting to get seed, certain stresses, like fall planting, drought, etc. may be more likely to cause the plants to set seed. I plan to always have some fall planted onions to encourage seed production each year. I planted my fall bulbs at the same time I planted fall garlic.

    1. Hi Jim,

      Good of you to post. I'll defiantly fall-plant if that increases my chances of getting seed. Thanks for that insight. What size onions do you think are ideal to replant? How are you spacing in the bed?

      I didn't water my onions but I did keep them weeded. I think onions can get the water they need for themselves in most instances.

      Larger than baseball sized potato onions is astounding. Virus accumulation is what happens with potatoes if you replant your own seed every year, and the yield goes down every season. So it makes sense that it happens with these onions too.

      I'm excited about growing these again.

      Many thanks for letting me know about potato onions back in the spring!!

    2. Herrick,

      Glad to share. I've learned a lot from you. As to fall planting, I have planted about 5-6 inches apart so far, but I'm not super precise when planting. These are in raised hugelkultur beds with a wood chip mulch over them. (By the way, I am also working on mineral balancing principles in those beds via Michael Astera's book) I planted the fall bulbs maybe just a little shallower than I do garlic. I was afraid about them freezing if I planted them too near the surface, but the wood chip mulch really helps as to that.

      As one commenter noted, some believe planting smaller bulbs give bigger nests and bigger onions in the nests. Winterton believes that. I don't have enough experience yet to have an opinion on it. I'm going to do a lot of both. I have a lot of stock now for cloning with lots of diversity. Next year I'll start eating! So, it will have taken me about three years to go from about 6 bulbs to a whole 4'x30' bed filled with onions. I'm hoping it works like that, leaving us the ability to eat the larger bulbs.

      I have tasted a few of those grown out from seed. So far, it seems like yellows are the most spicy. Reds are the most mellow. Whites are in-between. That seems to be consistent with Winterton's reports. If so, it probably means yellows will be the best keepers, and it might mean that reds are best fall-sown.

  5. Jim Karns
    Would you be willing to sell any seeds or bulbs that you have from Kelly
    Richard Wynne
    North Central Texas
    Richard Wynne