Spring Onions, Walking Onions

Spring can be a tough time for those of us who depend on onions as important ingredients in our cooking. Usually the fall harvested are sprouting or spoiled by March, and even the earliest planted onions wont be ready for harvest until later in the spring.

But this period between March and maybe June is exactly when the spring onions, aka walking onions are at their best.

Walking or Spring Onions. A useful perenial crop
Walking or Spring Onions. A useful perenial crop

Spring onions are one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. They are a perennial onion plant, replanting themselves every year via the curious bulbs that grow at the top of the sturdy stems in the late summer. These bulbs grow so heavy that they bend the tip of the onion down to the ground where the bulb now roots. Left on their own, the plant will “walk” across the garden over the years.

We sometimes pull the bulbs and drop them at the base of the mature onion plants, but that appears to be optional. The onions dont seem to have any problem replanting themselves, or regrowing from existing roots with no help from us.

Walking onions emerging in March in Iowa
Walking onions emerging in March in Iowa

You will hear people say they dont like spring onions, but my guess is that is because they are harvesting them at the wrong time or using the wrong parts. Walking / spring onions are only useful in that window between late winter and early summer, precisely when other onions can be scarce. They have a long white base at this time of year that is tender and has a good flavor. As they grow the white base gets  gradually tough and the green stems fill with a viscous clear liquid.  But by then you’ll have scallions ready to take their place in the kitchen.

To harvest these onions its helpful to use a tool to pry the roots loose from the ground. Because they are perennial, they dont pop out of the ground like other onions do. We use a hand tool they sell to dig dandelion roots from the ground. Its a cheap and readily available at the garden centers or hardware stores.

Bulbs from the top of a walking onion stem
Bulbs from the top of a walking onion stem