The Cottage Smallholder

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Egyptian walking onions


Photo: Egyptian walking onion sets

Photo: Egyptian walking onion sets

“Look the Egyptian walking onions have arrived!”
I was opening an envelope that had dropped through our letterbox. Danny looked bemused.
“In Finland they are called Air onions.”
“You didn’t get them sent all the way from Finland did you?” Panicky cash strapped yelp.
“Well yes. They were cheaper than buying them in the UK – including postage.”
“But do we need them?”
“Yes. These are perennial onions. Once you plant them you should have them forever.”
“Ahhh.” The word perennial brings out the purr in D. 

I first read about Egyptian walking onions in Mark Diacono’s wonderful book A Taste of the Unexpected. Which is a must read for green fingered foodies everywhere and top of my list for the best gardening/foodie books for 2010. The tiny bulbs can be planted in spring or autumn. They swell to the size of a shallot. Each onion develops little bulbils at the top of the edible stems – the weight of these causes the stems to droop to the ground and the smaller bulbs go onto develop into bigger bulbs. So on ad infinitum. These onion sets literally ‘walk’ – albeit just the one momentous step a year.

Ideally the sets are planted in autumn, so they can develop a root system before the winter frosts. Autumn planting will give a harvest at the end of the summer. Spring planted sets will probably not produce a harvest in the first year. If you leave the parent onion in the ground it will give a bigger harvest the next year. Apparently these onions store much better than shallots or ordinary onions and they are strong flavoured to.

I’m not growing shallots this year. These Egyptian walking onions sound much more fun. I’m going to set some in the solar tunnel borders this week and the rest in pots to be transplanted into outside borders the spring. I’m quickly discovering the bliss of the solar tunnel, with adequate heating during frosty patches the tunnel can extend the growing year by up to two months. Once established these onions can withstand subzero temperatures – Finland gets pretty cold in winter.

Incidentally, I bought mine on Ebay from Kaarina and would highly recommend this seller. She also sells Egyptian walking onion seed if you fancy being an Egyptian walking onion farmer. Now there’s a thought.

  Leave a reply


  1. Vernon Gibbons

    How can I get hold of some of these

  2. I went to a talk given by Mark Diacono at the Cheddar garden centre earlier this year and he is just such an inspiration. I’ve just bought some of the onions from ebay too, can’t wait to get them in the ground!

  3. Rosemarie

    About 10 years ago a friend of mine gave me a handful of these tops, she had gotten them form her uncle aboout 6 states away. I have them in a large pot in my garden I do nothing to them they just grow, no fertilizer and i do not water them they just get the rain. I am going to harvest them to grow this year, my luck they will die with some TLC.
    Fascinating onion, they just keep on growing.

  4. an Egyptian walking onion farmer NOW THAT Sounds a bit of me seeinng as I am in a wheelchair I hope you can see the irony in that? I forgot to welcome the Duchess I hope she is a well manered lady? is she petrol or Diesel? We recently lost our car and its a pain but friends came to the rescue and bought one for us.

  5. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    I need these, even if the taste isn’t brilliant and they are small. Only there’s pressure when you plant something like this. It’s humiliating when plants that are reputed to run wild and take over, like horseradish and mint, just sit there, barely surviving. What kind of gardener are you, anyway? I suspect my walking onions would stroll, or maybe saunter.

    But I still need these.

  6. Magic Cochin

    Like Margo we’ve had these for years – I can’t remember where I got mine from. We call the ‘Flying Onions’ because that’s what the head of little onionettes looks like!

    As Margo said they havne’t a brilliant flavour and they are very small – I once used them in Picalilli and it took me all afternoon to prepare them!!!!

    I’m sure we must still have some in the garden – it will be a shame if they died out this year. They are tough as old boots so expect some will arise in odd places next spring!


  7. How interesing, love the idea of never ending onions! xx

  8. Oh yes, they will go on…and on…and on..and on. I spend more time pulling extra ones out (along with the perennial leeks.

    But seriously I’ve had these for about 3 years now – the taste isn’t as good (well to me anyway) as “regular” onions, and they are a lot smaller (well my variety is) but they are a lot easier to grow.


  9. Ali at Very Berry

    The onions sound rather marvellous. I wonder if you can pickle them – I expect so! And thanks for the book recommendation – am adding it to my wishlist right now. 😀

  10. OUR Ecovillage

    Perrenial onions, how very permaculture…I suppose they would need space to walk, which can sometimes be a problem in a permaculture garden, with everything growing a bit willy nilly. What do you do to keep the soil ready around them? Or do they drop at the end of the season, to establish roots at Autumn?

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