Growing Spring Onions
Spring onions or scallions, whatever you want to call them, they are one of the nation’s best-loved alliums. If you are a keen cook, then it is always great to have a patch so you can pull them when needed and even as a substitute for when you run out of standard onions.
Their mild flavour is just the right strength to compliment salads, jacket potatoes and omelettes without being overpowering, and they make a great addition to Chinese stir fries, soups, stews and other delicate dishes.
If you love tasty, easy-to-grow, versatile vegetables that only need minimal space and effort, then spring onions are certainly for you! These crops produce a lot of bang for buck, as the humble spring onion produces massive yields from very small patches.
Even the tiniest plot or pot will accommodate them. They are super low maintenance and can be grown in any kind of container, outdoors, indoors and in greenhouses. So they are definitely one for the urban garden.
So, is there a difference between a spring onion and a scallion? Well, to most of us they are all the same, because they look and taste very similar. But to onion experts there are subtle differences, simply put: a scallion has a stem that remains straight all the way down to the root, while a spring onion has the hint of a bulb at the bottom. So now you know.
Despite the differences between scallions and spring onions, there aren’t an overwhelming variety of cultivars to choose from, but let’s look at some of them:
White Lisbon is the most ubiquitous spring onion variety in Britain. No bells and whistles here; it just produces standard, reliable and tasty spring onions. There is however, a special version of the crop named White Lisbon Winter Hardy that is more suitable for overwintering.
Guardsman is another good basic option. It is very similar to white Lisbon except that it keeps fresh a little longer in the fridge.
Furio is a little more unusual in that it is red in colour. Red spring onions are always certain always to impress lunch guests if you add them to salads. Furio is a summer crop, but one that is incredibly resistant to bolting, so you don’t need to worry about the temperature too much.
Evergreen is a scallion variety that is not hardy enough to overwinter. You must grow them through summer in sunny spots, but their subtle flavor is worth it.
A scallion variety known for growing very long and straight, making it suitable for competitions or meeting EU trade regulations. Ramrod can be grown in either autumn or winter and it has a sweet taste.
Spring onions are grown from seed, and traditionally in rows 15 cm (6”) apart, however, you may scatter them in any way that you like and they should still produce a good yield.
Sow them either in spring to arrive in late summer, or autumn to overwinter and arrive the following spring. You can also keep sowing them in a continuous two week cycle from March onwards to get a constant crop.
Like most alliums, spring onions like well-drained soil, so dig over a fairly sunny spot and rake it until it is fine and crumbly. Make sure to remove all weeds and you can dig in a little compost too if you like.
Draw out a couple of long grooves in the soil to sow your seeds into, make them about 2 cm (1”) deep and 15cm (6”) apart.
Sprinkle your seeds into the drills and then cover over with soil. Water well. When the seedlings start popping up, thin them out so they have about 2 cm (1”) of space between them.
If you want to grow your spring onions in trays or containers, then just fill some with compost, sprinkle seeds on the top and water in well.
There are very few issues that blight spring onions, so just make sure to not overwater them and they should be fine. If you do drench them, you will end up with overly large and weak tasting spring onions, or worse still, they will rot and start smelling vinegary. So, water when the soil looks dry but don’t let the patch get waterlogged.
Always keep your spring onion patch weed free, especially during the early weeks when the plants are small.
Harvesting is as easy as you might imagine, just pull as many as you need from the ground and leave the rest in to remain fresh. Be careful if the ground is baked dry or frozen though, or you could end up snapping them.
Brush or wash any soil off the harvest, and once you have gathered enough, you should plant more seeds into the holes you just pulled them out from.
Perpetual Spring Onions
Spring onions keep on giving, and there are actually two ways to make them almost perpetual. The first is to simply lop the tops off them instead of pulling up the bulb, but leave about 2 cm (1”) of green. Give what is left in the ground a good watering, they should start coming back to life in a month, give it a try!
Another way is to pull the whole plant up, but when you slice them for dinner keep the bulbs with the roots to one side. Instead of throwing them away, stand them root down in a little pot of water. In a few days you will begin to see green shoots coming back and you can transplant them back into the garden for another round.
‘Real’ Spring Onions
Instead of using spring onion seeds, try just using normal onion seeds and pulling them up before their roots develop, this way you can employ standard onion varieties to increase the colours and flavours of your salads. Any onion type will do, you can even just snip a little of the green tops off your standard onion crop and eat those as spring onions. Doing so won’t harm the bulbs at all!