Sunday, 26 October 2014

True potato onion seeds and other perennial alliums


True Potato Onion Seed

In 2013 some of my potato onions flowered.  It is the first time I have ever seen a potato onion flower so I was very excited, I wrote a little about it on a blog post called Potato onion seeds.  I planted about half of those seeds in Autumn and nothing germinated, I was more than a little disappointed but there was nothing I could do.

I planted the rest of the seeds in Spring and some of them have just begun to germinate.  I don't know how many will grow but at this stage it looks like only a small number.  I could not be more excited about this.  To make things even better, some of my original potato onions have begun to flower again this year!  This should hopefully give me some more seed to try and grow next year.  Hopefully they will flower more often so I can have seed grown potato onions to begin selecting for traits I want to see in them.

Perennial onion seedlings
Tiny Potato Onion seedlings germinating
Once these seedlings grow a bit I will separate them and see what they turn into.  Apparently potato onions that are grown from seed exhibit a lot of variation.  I had many types of onion flower at the same time as these potato onions (potato onions, spring onions, everlasting onion, tree onions, several types of bulb onions) so whatever these seeds grow into each of them should be different from each other.  Fingers crossed something truly remarkable comes out of this lot.

True potato onion seeds
Potato onion seedlings growing larger

potato onions flowering
Potato Onions flowering again
Potato onion seedlings - only the strong survived


Everlasting Onion Seed and Bulbils

Another perennial onion I grow are the amazing Everlasting onions.  They flower each year but never produce seeds.  They have been grown by many different people in many different climates for well over 30 years and have not set seed and do not produce top sets.  They rapidly split in half many times throughout the year so are simple to multiply without the need for seeds.
Everlasting onions flowering happily as usual
Last year one everlasting flower produced a bulbil, I planted this in a small 10cm pot and kind of forgot about it.  That one bulbil has split into 7 small plants over the year and they are now flowering.  That is pretty remarkable considering how little space is in that small pot.  Time will tell if this will be more inclined to produce topsets or if it was just a once off.  Topsets are fun so I would like this to happen more often.  If not the tree onions are flowering at the moment and they produce a lot of topsets.
Everlasting onions grown from one bulbil - starting to flower

Last year from several hundred flower heads my everlasting onions actually produced some viable seeds.  I planted most of the seeds and ended up with 7 seedlings.  So far I can not see a lot of variation between the seedlings which I find rather odd.  Some are slightly larger than others, some are slightly brown whereas others are slightly red, but this happens throughout the year with regular everlasting onions so is nothing different.  They are still very small so perhaps I will notice differences as they grow, or perhaps they will be very similar to the parent, only time will tell.  As mentioned above a lot of alliums were flowering at the same time so I would have expected them to cross a little and result in some unique perennial onions.
Everlasting onion seedlings, I have since planted them into separate pots

Babington's Leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii)

One of the perennial leeks I grow is Babington's leek, I should write a blog post about them but probably wont for a while.  I am not aware of anyhere in Australia that currently sells Babington's leek so if I ever have enough I plan to sell them so that more people can grow and experience these amazing plants.  They are a kind of wild leek that has been semi-domesticated, when it flowers it grows tiny bulbils on the flower head instead of flowers, kind of like the leek version of tree onions.

I heard of Babington's leek years ago and tried to track down some to grow.  One place had them for sale for more than I was willing to pay, but I contacted them anyway and they had sold out.  That place stopped selling plants altogether shortly after.  I emailed them and asked if I could get in touch with their supplier and was told no.  They believed that this variety of leek had died out in Australia completely and they wished me luck in finding any.
Perennial Babington's leek
Babington's leek
As luck would have it some kind person traded some of my things for a few tiny Babington's leek plants.  I planted them in 3 different places to help protect against disaster.  They grew slowly for me, then died down over the heat of summer.  I hoped they had died down to bulbs but was not overly confident that they were coming back as they were posted at an inconvenient time for them.

When the weather cooled and the plants began to grow I had increased my stock from 5 tiny plants to 6 plants which ranged in size from tiny to reasonably large.  I had hoped that more would have grown from the roots, but that was not to be this year.  I am told that they will divide a bit each time they die down and many people increase their numbers in this way.  I am assuming that mine did not increase in number much as they were posted late in their season so they put their energy into establishing rather than dividing.

This year one of the plants is beginning to send up a flower stalk.  I have told the kids not to go near this plant and am concerned that they may remove it or damage it and I will have to wait another year to see what happens next.  Regardless, I have at least one plant of flowering size and it should flower each year from here on.  I am guessing that if all goes well the other plants will be flowering size next year as each of them is now larger than the ones I started with.
Not a great picture of Babington's leek starting to flower
I do not know how many bulbils to expect from one flower stalk.  I know of no one here who has grown these and have to rely on the internet for information.  Some internet sites say three of four large bulbils will be produced, others say a few dozen, while others say several hundred tiny bulbils.  I have no option but to wait and see.  I find all of this to be very exciting.  Judging by the size of the flower I am guessing not many bulbils will be produced this year, next year the plant may be larger and produce more.


Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

I don't have a lot to say about these little guys.  They are nothing special, they are not even a special type of chives, but I like them.  They die down to tiny bulbs each winter and grow again when the weather warms up a little.  Apparently they are the smallest species of edible onions.  I would like more of them so am letting some of them flower in the hope of either collecting the seeds or just letting the seeds fall and grow by themselves.

Chives starting to flower

Spring onions (Allium fistulosum)

Spring onions are, in my opinion, the poor cousin of the everlasting onion.  They are edible, useful, hardy and perennial so are not without their charm.  I had some plants at our previous house that were 3 or so years old.  Prior to moving here I saved their seed to bring with us.  I planted them during the first few weeks after we moved in and they have been growing ever since.  I do not have the heart to kill them as they are perennial and require very little looking after, so they have stayed where they are not doing too much.  They produce viable seed each year, I used to collect the seed but recently have not bothered as everlasting onions are far superior.

Spring onions are perennial onions, we used to eat their leaves and white shanks.  The problem is that their leaves get too thick and coarse after their first year and I do not know how to fix that other than planting new seed each year and killing the parent stock.  I have cut some to the ground, when they sprout they are think again.

Everlasting onions have far thinner foliage and it is never course.  Spring onions do not have the ability to produce bulbs whereas everlasting onions die to bulbs each year if I want them to and will keep growing if I water them a lot over summer.

Tree onions are an interspecific hybrid between spring onions and bulb onions that was made accidentally hundreds of years ago.  I have often thought of trying to recreate tree onions with better parents but I doubt I will ever try to do that as I have a lot of other, more deserving things going on in the vegetable garden.

Spring Onions flowering - these are almost 4 years old now

Giant Russian Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum)

This is great stuff.  Botanically it is a type of perennial leek, but for everyone else it is a massive garlic that is mild in taste.  Apparently this can grow in more tropical places where regular garlic can not.

Many people say that they can not produce seed but this is not true, each year mine produce a tiny amount of seed which grows into new plants.  The seed seems to grow true to type even when there are other types of leek flowering at the same time.
Russian Garlic almost ready to flower and die down
At the moment my plants are looking shabby as they are almost ready to flower, after they have done so they will die down to bulbs.  This normally happens around Christmas/New Year.  I will dig them up after this and have them for sale again, digging them up now does not go so well for them.

Some people complain that Giant Russian garlic is too mild.  I have found that if I plant them early and they grow through some frost the taste is a lot more intense.  Apparently putting them in the fridge a few weeks prior to planting can have the same result if they are grown in frost free areas.

I have successfully (and accidentally) stored the bulbs for over 18 months before we moved here.  I stored the cloves somewhere and forgot about them, by the time I noticed them it was too late to plant and I had no more garden space so I waited for the following year.  From those, 100% grew and the plants were indistinguishable from the fresh ones.  While this is far from ideal, it shows how easy these things are to grow.
One single giant Russian garlic clove, they do get a lot larger than this in good years


Perennial vegetables for sale in Australia

If you are interested in growing some of these I do sell everlasting onions, tree onions, perennial leeks, giant Russian garlic, garlic chives, two types of potato onions and a bunch of other perennial vegetables (and some heirloom vegetable seed) on my for sale page.  When I have enough I plan to also offer Babington's leeks but that will have to wait for at least a few months to see what happens with this flower.  If the potato onion seedlings or the everlasting onion seedlings end up as anything remarkable I will sell them too, but I dare say that is a while off as I would like to grow them out for a few seasons to see how they perform and evaluate if they are worth keeping.