Adventures in Alliums

Adventures in Alliums

By Justin Duncan

I have had many Allium adventures, growing them from seeds, from sets, and found in the grocery store. In fact, one of the things that help get me hooked on growing things as a child was snatching a sprouting onion from my mother’s kitchen, planting it, and to see it develop into three distinct onion plants. Propagation was always such a fascinating concept to me.  

Alliums have developed many adaptive charactaristics depending upon local climate, length of day and type of soil needs of the various species within the Genera.

Common onions:  Allium cepa are generally grown from seeds and baby onion plants called, sets. If allowed to continue grow, the bulb will divide itself the following season. In onion production this trait is a bit of a nuisance, because it causes there to be more than one ‘center’ within the bulb and most consumers would prefer a perfect concentric ring pattern.  

Garlic:  In Allium sativa, the bulb splitting trait is desirable. Come harvest time when one collects a solid uni-bulb garlic -its kind of weird, because a multi-heading bulb is desirable.

Alliums Potent Strengths

 Alliums tell you they are there and here to stay through their sheer power of production and aromatic presence. These sulfur-rich plants alerted ancient people that there was something peculiar about this plant and in the Northern Hemisphere became a staple food and a medicine for many indigenous cultures. 

My personal favorites are leeks and elephant garlic, which are both Allium ampeloprasum. Not only do I love the flavor of these Alliums but they also grow GREAT for me. Those that know me know that I have streamlined production to only trouble-free and reliable plants that don’t need a lot of babying.  Which Allium do you grow and why?  


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Justin Duncan is a Sustainable Agriculture Specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Southwest Regional Office. He has a BS in Agronomy from Prairie View A&M University and an MS in Plant Breeding from Texas A&M University. He’s spent years figuring out the nuts-and-bolts of successful organic farming in the humid South, concentrating mainly on sweet potatoes, strawberries, niche market ethnic specialty crops, cover crops and drought mitigation techniques. He is currently working on cover crop projects in south Texas to help farmers there build organic matter in their soil. https://attra.ncat.org

Learn more about growing Alliums in the Garden

Join us for our next live Zoom class with Justin Duncan on Wednesday, Sept. 21, @ 7:00 PM