Using Onion Sets

Courtesy of Bingo B. Boise, ID

Technically, chives are a perennial and have really thin tops, from a pencil lead or a toothpick-sized leaf. Scallions are onions that are harvested small so that the bulb portion hasn’t formed yet. Some varieties of onions resist setting a bulb for quite some time and are more scallion varieties. (See Tokyo long and other oriental varieties.) The larger they get (the longer you let them grow) the more likely they’ll begin to form a small bulb. At this point they are technically called green onions. Again, if you give these enough space and time, most will grow into a large bulb onion. Of course, then there’s the short day and long day varieties that are tuned in to the amount of sun you get depending if you are in the North or South.Thoroughly confused yet? Most customers glaze over when I try to explain the difference to them.

This is my first year growing sets from seed started in pots. I plant about 25 seeds in a 4×4 pot and let them get to about 4-5″. I cut the tops at about 5″ to encourage root growth. The hope is that by early May they will be big enough to transplant out into the garden as sets.
I’m growing Walla Wallas, a purple Greek salad onion and a couple of Cipollini varieties. I’m also doing shallots this way.

Idaho has a quarantine on onion sets from outside the state so if we want unique varieties to sell we have to start from seed. There are a few bulb sets around available at nurseries, but we’re limited to “white”, “yellow” and “purple”. I planted scallion varieties and green onions from seed directly in the soil last year and they grew great.

Last year I planted “yellow” and “purple” bulb sets thick and thinned them early in the season for “green onions” leaving space for the rest to grow into big onions in the fall. It worked great.

One thing that really got attention at my market was a bag with an onion, a couple peppers and a few tomatoes. I called it a salsa in a bag kit and they sold great. This year I’m growing a lot of cilantro to enhance the bag. These were a hit when everyone at the market had tons of tomatoes and you practically couldn’t give them away.