Let's Bring Back The Multiplier!

Friday Sep 22 2017

Onion relatives (members of the allium family) can be a bit confusing. "Shallot"? "Scallion"? And "Multiplier"? Oh my!

Chives, garlic, leeks and onions are all descendants of wild alliums but have been cultivated for some 5000 years or longer. There are over 600 species of alliums but only about 7 are currently being cultivated commercially.

Within Allium cepa (the good ole onion) there is an exciting cultivar group called aggregatum – from the Latin meaning to attach or to join together. Shallots and potato onions, two close relatives, fall into this grouping. Hence, multipliers!

Potato onions, also called multipliers, nesting onions or perennial onions were once common in North America – and for good reason. As the name suggests, multipliers propagate themselves (by division of bulbs). Like garlic, you can harvest some for eating and some for planting back in fall or spring. Potato onions can also be left in the ground to grow and thinned as you need them. All parts of the plant are edible so you can snip some of the new leaves as fresh onion greens in spring or early summer or harvest bulbs in late summer right through to winter. They are closely related to shallots but bulb up larger and store better. Who knew?!

So, why bring back the multiplier? Just as heirloom tomatoes and your grandparents’ runner beans are making a comeback, multipliers are the equivalent treat in the onion world. Some vegetable varieties fall out of favour not because they’re unreliable or lack flavour but because they just aren’t suitable for commercial production. But for the home gardener? Multipliers are a real treasure – hassle-free, perennial, and there when you need ‘em.


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