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Scallions, The Never-Ending Onion!

There is something quite incredible and alluring about any recipe that starts with the instructions to chop up a few scallions. These sweet and tasty little members of the onion family add robust flavor to stir-fries, stews, soups, breads, omelets, and even tuna salads. Versatile, healthy, delicious, and affordable from every farmer’s market defines these green onions in a nutshell, so to speak. What many might not know about them is that they can actually be regrown from bare roots alone; which, when combined with the fact that they can be dried and frozen really easily, means that you never need to run out of scallions again.

An Onion By Any Other Name

There are actually several names associated with scallions, so it can oftentimes prove confusing when trying to follow a recipe written by someone who doesn’t refer to these onions as scallions! Some of the names that scallions are also known as include the following:

  • Spring onions
  • Green shallots
  • Green onions
  • Baby onions
  • Yard onions
  • Bunching onions

Since scallions fall in the Allium genus, referring to them as an onion is not entirely wrong. The majority of gardeners may simply know them as spring onions, because they are typically amongst some of the first plants to come up after the winter chill fades and the warmth of spring days arrive. The name scallion is often also used to describe regular young onion plants that have been harvested just before the bulb has formed.

There are several methods for growing scallions, and all methods will typically produce similar results if the growing conditions are ideal for the plants. Whether you grow yours from seeds, transplanted sets, or from bare roots is entirely up to you and the type of space that you have to devote to the scallions.


Growing Scallions From Seed

Growing scallions from seed is relatively easy, but it will definitely take a fair amount longer than if you were to transplant sets of scallions purchased from an organic nursery. Scallions, like all members of the onion family, require well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. The pH level of the soil should be neutral, no higher than 6.8 and no lower than 6.2. Like all of their onion cousins, scallions require constant moisture in order to produce their best yields.

Because the seedlings are typically so very fragile, it is recommended that you direct sow the seeds versus trying to transplant them from other containers. Plant your seeds in well-drained soil that is weed free and can be easily maintained as weed free. Try to avoid planting your scallions in an area where you have grown other onion crops in the past three years, unless you have taken steps to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

Direct sow once the soil temperature is maintaining at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and plant the seeds a quarter inch deep, half an inch apart, in rows that are about six inches apart. If you plant on harvesting the scallions when they are still young and sweet, you don’t need to do much in the way of thinning the seedlings out, so long as there is at least half to a full inch between each plant. However, if you plan on allowing them to grow bulbs then you’ll need to give the plants at least four inches to grow.

When you harvest the scallions is entirely up to you and your preference for flavor and size of the scallion. Keep in mind that the longer scallions are left in the ground, the more intense their flavor will become; scallions that are harvested young will have a very sweet and subtle flavor to them. Many gardeners will wait for at least forty-five days before testing the size of their scallions; remember that if you pull one up and it appears too puny for your preferences, that you can replant it or pop it into a cup of water in order to continue growing.

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Growing Scallions From Sets

The majority of garden centers will sell onion sets or bunches that can be transplanted into your garden in the early spring. Select well-drained soil that is rich with organic matter, and can be readily kept free from weeds. Onions require plenty of direct sunlight, so make sure that you are growing your scallions in a spot where they can receive at least six hours of warm sun every day. Sprinkle a bit of fresh compost into each hole when you are transplanting the onions, just to give them a bit of a nutritional boost.

Growing your scallions from sets could result in more of them bolting than if you were to grow them from seeds or bare roots. This is often attributed to the fact that sets of onions sold are typically at least a year old, and have a stronger root system already established. Some gardeners don’t mind if a few bolt and pollinate, as this will provide them with a store of seeds to use next spring.

Harvest the onions and the greens when they are at your preferred size and flavor. Keep in mind that you can also just pick up a cheap package of scallions from your farmer’s market or grocery store if you can’t find regular sets of them from your nursery. The store-bought scallions will still have their roots attached to them, in order to maintain freshness.

Growing Scallions From Bare Roots

As an organic gardener you likely put the bulk of refuse from your kitchen into your compost bin or pile, including the discarded roots of your scallions. Before you toss them into the compost bin the next time that you serve up scallions for dinner, consider rather the ultimate in recycling with your scallions. When preparing and slicing them, leave at least an inch of white onion just above the roots of the plant, these roots will be able to provide you with an almost never-ending supply of fresh scallions, year-round.

A shot glass can give you just the right amount of space for your scallion nub to grow in, and as the plant grows you can just relocate it to a larger container. The goal is to avoid allowing the tops of the scallion from falling into the water as this will just cause it to rot rather than grow.

  • Put just enough water into the glass to cover the roots of the scallion.
  • Place the container in a sunny spot, like your kitchen windowsill.
  • Keep the water level topped up when it evaporates.

Within as little as three days you should start to see brand new growth popping up out of the top of your scallion! This green shoot will continue to grow so long as it receives plenty of water and sunlight. You can opt to leave your scallions in the water and growing happily in your kitchen, just making sure to change out the water at least once a week so that it doesn’t start to smell, or you can transplant them into some containers or directly back into your garden.

Some gardeners prefer simply putting the cut roots directly back into the garden, versus waiting for the roots and greens to start to grow again. This will work in most cases, but will typically work better with containers filled with soil so that you can control where the moisture goes. Too much moisture onto the top of the plant will result in rotting and in the loss of the scallions.

When you are ready to pull the scallions out of the soil again, you will be very surprised at just how incredibly long the new roots have grown. Snip off a good portion of the roots before you replant the scallions, this will make planting a lot easier than if you were to try and accommodate a foot’s length of roots.

Scallions are great companion plants to set out between beets, lettuce, potato, carrot, cabbage, and tomato. Avoid planting them near beans and peas, as they tend to compete for nutrients. Use good crop rotation methods in order to avoid depleting your soil, resulting in unhealthy plants with poor nutritional value. Keep your scallions watered well so that the soil is always moist to the touch.

Storing Scallions

Once pulled out of the water or the soil, your scallions have a very limited shelf life as fresh onions. The greens however can be chopped up and frozen for use in soups and stews when you have a need for them. Alternatively, the greens can be dried out and stored in airtight containers until needed to flavor soups, stews, and other dishes requiring the subtle sweet flavors that are so unique to scallions.

If you are lucky enough to live in a mild climate, you can even grown scallions year-round. I have a special section in my garden just for my scallions, and any time I need to add a few to my cooking, all I have to do is step out to my backyard. I replenish the area with seeds once a year or so to keep my stock up.

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