Friday, 24 January 2014

Potato Onion Seeds

I wrote a little about potato onions in a previous post.  They are an edible, perennial, heirloom onion that is near extinction in Australia and I have always been rather fond of them.

Potato onions rarely flower, when they do flower they rarely produce seeds, when they do produce seeds they are rarely viable.  From what I have heard the small number of viable seeds exhibit a tremendous degree of variability and tend to grow larger, better and more vigorously than their parents. 
Perennial vegetables
White potato onions, not all that large but still great

After growing potato onions for many years in a few different climates I had never seen one flower until 2013.  Interestingly enough my everlasting onions flower every year and never set seed, but they have produced seed for the first time this year.  The lady who gave me the everlasting onions has had them for over 30 years, she has never had them produce seed, so it must be the year for rare onion seed.  I plan to plant this everlasting onion seed and see what comes of it, but that is a story for another post.

My brown potato onions had been stressed badly the previous year and had not divided well.  Many even began to die off.  This year was almost as harsh as last year, it is more dry but not quite as hot.  From the surviving brown potato onions I ended up with 5 flower stalks.  From those flower stalks 3 flowered and then only produced unviable shriveled dead seed.  Out of the two remaining flowers, one produced 6 good looking seeds and the other one is still ripening but looks as though it should produce a dozen or more seeds.  This is very exciting.  Hopefully at least a few seeds will grow for me.
perennial onion seed Australia
Potato onion seed ripening - very exciting
 While the potato onions were flowering I also had regular bulb onions, tree onions, spring onions, and everlasting onions flowering.  I do not know what these potato onions seed will produce, they may be potato onions, or they may be a cross between potato onions and one of the other onions.  I will never be able to know for sure as potato onions grown from seed are highly variable.
white potato onions
White potato onion - these did not flower
I plan to attempt to grow these potato onion seeds, unfortunately I have no idea what to do with them.  I do not know when to plant them, or how to treat them, and there is really no one to ask.  Potato onions flower so rarely that experienced gardeners will argue with you that if they flower then they are not true potato onions.  At this stage I plan on hedging my bets by planting half in February or March, then the other half during winter or spring.  I plan to plant them in pots to begin with so that I can protect them a bit more than I would be able to if they were in the garden.  Fingers crossed that something truly remarkable comes out of these few seeds.

I have been told by people who have potato onions flowering overseas that seed grown potato onions are more likely to flower than their parents.  I have seen some amazing breeding work and the results after just 2 or 3 generations is nothing short of remarkable.

At this stage I will not be selling any potato onion seed, mostly because I do not have many seeds.  If I ever reach a point where I have extra seeds I will certainly try to distribute them as we need more varieties of potato onions in Australia.  I do sell potato onions occasionally, as well as some other perennial vegetables on my for sale page.

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