We got a late start on the garden this year, having done renovations to our small house in March and moved in April. In Kentucky, that’s the time you should be starting seeds and prepping garden beds, not painting walls and installing flooring.
By the time we were settled enough to start seeds and make garden-plot plans, it was mid-April.
When my farming partner decided he was seeding onions, I thought there was no way we’d have a decent crop. We should have been transplanting onion sets in March, not seeding them into trays in April. But these were bunching onions, not bulb onions.
While I was skeptical about this bunching onions business, I have to say I’ve come around to their convenience for as-needed harvesting and seemingly maintenance-free growth.
What Are Bunching Onions?
Bunching onions (Allium fistulosum) are stouter than chives and even than your typical scallions, though they’re nowhere near as bulb-y as a bulb onion.
With their long, crisp green tops and their substantial white (or red) onion parts, these are meant to be sold in bunches—which is my guess as to where the name came from.
Bunching onions are not storage onions. That is, they’re not to be harvested, cured and stored for later use. They will keep in the garden for a long time, however, overwintering in mild climates and holding throughout the growing season.
How to Grow
We started ours indoors, about four weeks before we transplanted them into the garden. You can also direct seed after chance of freezing has passed.
Transplant them deep enough so just the top inch is sticking out of the soil for serious white-onion blanching action.
Here’s where I’m going against what the seed packet might tell you: We seeded these bunching onions directly into bunches—eight-ish seeds per cell. They appear to love the company.
You may choose to follow seed-packet instructions, which typically call for one onion per cell.
My thinking is, if you can plant and harvest as a bunch, and there doesn’t appear to be any issue with growth, I’ll take this less-work route. (Johnny’s Seeds explains 1-inch spacing encourages larger-diameter growth, and I plan to check this tactic in future seedings.)
With two people gardening in a space the size of what each of us used to grow individually, we’re a bit short on space. Onions are a great companion for tomatoes, and the bunching onions are thriving on the edges of the tomato beds. They’d do fine in their own bed, too.
Succession plant to have fresh bunching onions all year. Start them as late as August or September for overwintering. Plan to cover these if you experience regular freezing temperatures. You can also plant them in a pot and bring them indoors to harvest all winter.
Onions are surprisingly heavy feeders, so be sure to have properly amended soil to start out.
Rotate your alliums each year, as onion maggots are no joke.
How to Harvest
I just love cut-and-come-again veggies. Need some green onions but not the white or red parts? Just cut the bunching onions’ green stalks, and green stalks will regrow in their place.
To harvest the whole onion, I’ve found when the soil is dry and crusted, it’s easiest to loosen the soil with a fork or trowel and pull up the whole bunch. On the other hand, when the soil is wet and friable, it’s possible to pull one or two onions by hand and leave the rest to continue growing.
How to Use Bunching Onions
While I would find joy in explaining all the ways to use bunching onions, we’d be here all day. In short, use the green parts like scallions/green onions; use the white or red parts like onion bulbs or potent scallions.
While it seemed at the beginning of this growing season that I was settling for bunching onions—rather than bulb onions—I now know these delightful, easy alliums will be a part of the garden from here out.
And I can’t wait to replant this fall to have bunching onions waiting for me come springtime.