Released in January, WVU Agricultural Extension Calendar “Back to Our Roots,” celebrates the unique heritage of gardening in Appalachia. February is the month to sing the praises of the Winter Potato Onion. Traditionally, onions are a staple crop in southeastern West Virginia. Before the popular green bunching scallions and bulb onions were available in stores, multiplier onions were widely grown in gardens throughout West Virginia. Often called potato onions or shallots, these multiplier onions produce clusters around a central bulb. As a result, the yield from multiplier onions is much greater than traditional bulb onions.
Although onions are biennial, meaning that they produce seed the second year, multiplier onions do not produce seeds. Instead one saves the small bulbs in the cluster to plant the following year.
Potato onions are typically white or yellow bulbs and have a mild flavor therefore they are excellent for cooking. Each potato onion will typically produce six to 11 bulbs.
Potato onions can be planted in the fall or early spring but are traditionally overwintered as a “winter onion” in Appalachia. The potato onion can tolerate sub-freezing temperatures. The bulbs are planted in fall (early November) in West Virginia.
Potato onions are excellent plants for containers or raised beds. The onion bulbs or “sets” are planted approximately 6 inches apart within the row and 18-24 inches between the rows.
In some regions of West Virginia, the onions will produce green bunching onions for harvest in early winter. Otherwise, the onion can be harvested as green bunching onions in spring or allowed to mature to full sized bulbs for harvest in early summer.
After harvest, the potato onions can be cured in a warm, dry place for about a month and stored in a cool, dry environment for the remainder of the year. Be sure to save the bulbs from vigorous clusters for planting later in the season. The Winter Potato Onion… their planting and care will pay dividends year after year!
The Greenbrier Valley Master Gardeners meet on the second Thursday of each month. The business meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and an educational program follows. If you have a keen interest in gardening, a desire to help others and would like more information on becoming a Master Gardener, call Mary Dameron the Greenbrier County Extension Office at 304-647-7408.