Walkabout, topset, Egyptian walking onions, and many other common names are used for Allium cepa var. proliferum. It really is one of the best perennial alliums. I just get annoyed with its lack of a descent name. Even the botanical name, in my opinion, doesn’t fit, and is quite misleading.
You see “cepa” is the species name of our common storage onion. This species makes seed and enlarged bulbs when there is longer daylength. Egyptian walking onion does neither. They pinned Egyptian walking onions with this name due to its suspected parentage of Allium cepa and Allium fistulosum -the welsh onion I covered in the Perennial Alliums post. It really should be named after its welsh parentage, because it is essentially a welsh onion that makes bulbs atop the stem.
These bulbs are produced in early summer in place of flowers and seed. Once they get large and heavy, the plant leans over and plants the bulbs a distance from the parent clump, providing the walking tendency for which it is (sometimes) named.
These bulblets are quite the convenience. They can be divided and planted like onion sets of common storage onions, which in both cases is a very reliable method propagation. The bulblets keep very well, so can be stored and planted at any time you like.
For instance, a friend of mine has grown this onion for years, planting the bulblets under a grid of wire to keep them upright and neat. He gets a load of bulblets this way, leaving some for next year’s production, and many more which he plants in the bottom of coffee cans in his greenhouse every week over winter. Filling these with soil as the onions grow, he harvests very long white stems for fresh eating all through the winter. (He eats them on Sunday’s specifically -a very organized guy who is now plugging along through his nineties).
Such blanching is really a novelty though. If left outside, these grow long into the winter and can be picked frozen with little damage to the consistency. Yet another common name for this onion in my local area is winter onion.
Besides multiplying by bulblets the plants will multiply into a thick clump of thinner onions. These grow thicker and taller when lined out with space between each plant.
I prefer to just stick to the bulblets though, as they can easily be spaced without the hassle of digging up clumps and waiting for them to establish themselves again. They grow just as thick and healthy as the divisions.
In an ideal world, you leave permanent clumps in the perennial beds to harvest bulblets and never bother with division. And the benefits don’t stop there.
Below, the onion on the right is an Egyptian walking onion. On the left is an ‘Ishikura’ welsh onion.
One less desirable characteristic Egytian walking onions share with welsh onions is the hard stem put up in late spring to hold the bulblets. I consider this inedible -similar to eating onion woodchips.
To get around this problem, just save back the bulblets from the late summer harvest and plant in mid spring. Without the fall and winter growth, the resulting green onions won’t put up bulblets or hard stem, remaining edible all the first year.
Aside from the nifty system, perhaps the best edible bonus of this onion is the bulblets themselves. They are really little onions, and can be used for pearl onions, or anything for which you would use a normal onion.
Peeling can be tedious. If form isn’t important, I crush the bulbs with the broad side of my knife before peeling. This removes the peel quickly as one piece, rather than several strips. For large batches, the trick is to throw them in boiling water for a few minutes -not cooking the inside of the onion, but just enough to pull the skin away from the inner onion. In this case peeling is a breeze
I know several people who don’t even keep this onion for eating, but for looks, which are eye catching.
They make crazy green spears coming out of a white wrapper, some varieties having greenish, some whitish, some red bulblets at the base. At times these bulbils make a set of bulblets and on more rare occasions a set of bulblets on top of that. Even without all the gymnastics, they are still pretty.
Thankfully this onion is pretty popular as perennial alliums go, so can easily be found online (this link is for a greenhouse local to me that sells the bulbils through Amazon) or very likely as plants hiding in a local flower bed. I recommend you look there first because it’s very likely you’ll find some.
They take care of themselves such that it’s more work to remove them than to lose them. Just get some and stick them somewhere and they will multiply waiting for you to start using them. It will be good to let them have the head start because once you start using them, you use a lot.