Wicked bad critters

Yesterday I answered multiple inquiries about the Green Mountain Multiplier onion that were sent through our contact form.

Several inquiries showed up at once; perhaps someone posted a message in a forum telling folks to try us as a source.

In any case, just to let everyone know the bad news, the deer got them. Most of them, anyway; there were a few survivors.

The problem is that I did not realize that deer ate onions. I always thought they stayed away from strongly-flavored foods like onion, garlic, peppers, ginger, and so on. I suspect that’s partially true but a matter of degree, and the onions were just not strong enough to deter hungry deer.

For that matter, we just learned the hard way that deer eat tomatoes too. They pluck the edible fruit neatly off the toxic greens.

They did leave the garlic alone. Almost every single plant is still in place. Maybe it helps that yours truly like really HOT, potent garlic.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I might as well tell the rest of you what I’m talking about. Let’s start at the beginning.

Kelly Winterton grows vegetables. One of his crops is multiplier onions.

Multiplier onions have gotten rare, so it’s probably worth explaining what those are. They’re onions that divide. Some folks call them “potato onions”.

Not to be confused with top-setting onions, also known as “walking onions” and “Egyptian onions”. These you eat the bulb in the ground, and it’s the bulb in the ground that divides, like a shallot. They’re similar to shallots and probably related to them. Unfortunately, they’re not much bigger than shallots either.

You don’t have to grow them from seed, or for that matter, sets, which start as seed someone else grew out. Mr. Winterton wondered what would happen if he did grow them out from seed.

He got a grab-bag of varied onions. What this probably means is that multiplier onions are probably something like an F1 hybrid between 2 different species, perhaps Allium cepa and A. fistulosum. That’s just a SWAG so no flames from the botanists please. Some of them divided the second year, some did not. Some had big bulbs, some small. SOME HAD BIG BULBS AND DIVIDED.

Seeing a benefit, he grew out the ones that are both big and divide. He also selected for pale-colored bulbs.

The result is “Green Mountain Multiplier”.

This is a great example of how a typical backyard gardener can come up with a great idea for a new crop. He generously shared some with me after I whined about the small size of my multpliers. I did a double-take when I saw these bad-boys.

Now onions vary in size, but these are quite a bit bigger than shallots. They’re roughly on the small-to-mid size of a typical greengrocer onion. Because you need fewer of them, they’re less tedious to peel in the kitchen than the typical multiplier onion.

When will they be on the market? Groan…shuffle… Well, as soon as we can get them grown out. We’re back down to 27–I counted them this morning. Each one divides into about 3-5. Let’s say they average 4. That would be 108 bulbs, and that’s assuming 100% survival which seems optimistic at this point.

Let me see if Tim Peters has any ideas about how to multiply them out faster than that so we can get them to you faster.

In the mean time, I’m growing some out from seed. I got a small batch of seedlings from the seed they set last year. For some reason their flowers are not particularly fertile so I did not get a lot of seed last year, and I got none at all this year. Mr. Winterton warned me that they would not breed true, and he was right, but that’s good news actually as I got some pleasant surprises in terms of colors. The next step is to grow these out for another year to see which ones have big bulbs and divide.

The goal would be to see if I can get the combination to breed true from seed. Unfortunately this too is a painstaking process as I have to wait 2 years to see if the bulbs divide, but once they’ve been grown out enough generations, first of all I’ll have lots of them, but ultimately, I’ll have multipliers that come true to seed, which would remove the propagation bottleneck AND avoid buildup of viruses in the bulbs.

We’ve got some other crops with similar propagation bottlenecks. We’re working on it. Smiley


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