Category Archives: Perennial Onions

Adding Perennials to Your Vegetable Garden

When planning our gardens we often think of annual food crops. Plants like peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, and sweet corn come to mind first and are the powerhouses of most backyard gardens. However perennials are an excellent addition to any garden. There’s a lot more to perennials than just their longer lifespan.

Why Grow Perennials

You can increase your food production.

Perennials can increase the amount of food you produce and therefore decrease your environmental impact. They’re often some of the first foods up in the garden and sometimes the longest producing. Plants like rhubarb, chives, and salad burnet will help fill your plates with local food when most of your annuals are still just tender seedlings.

They require less work.

Growing more perennials means less time spent starting plants each year. Just keep the weeds back, provide basic care, and enjoy your harvest.

Many perennials require less water.

As they grow for more than just one season they are generally able to develop deeper, more extensive root systems than annuals so they’ll need less careful watering.

They’re better at gathering nutrients.

Another advantage of their well developed root systems, perennials are often able to access nutrients from deep in the soil that annuals cannot. Perennials help bring these to the surface for them and the plants around them.

They improve soil structure.

Their root systems even help improve soil structure which helps not only them but any annuals that you grow near them. The soil health also improves because it’s not being disturbed each year. Nutrients are added through a top down system as parts of the plant die back or you add mulch around them. This process is just like what happens in a natural ecosystem.

How to Get Perennials

Perennials don’t have to be expensive! Browsing catalogs and visiting your local garden store can lead you to the impression that a garden full of perennials is going to be an expensive one. It’s doesn’t have to be though. Many perennial plants are easy to start from seed or divisions from existing plants which can sometimes be acquired for free or cheaply from friends, neighbors, or your local garden club. Ask around!

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers many perennial plants and seeds that can get you started without a big investment. Below are just a few of the perennials SESE offers that are easy to add to your garden.


Adding a lot of flavor with little effort, chives are super hardy, beautiful, and easy to grow. Plus once yours get established it’s easy to divide your plants and they make a great gift.


Though not a true fruit, rhubarb is the first fruit like food you’ll be able to get locally each spring. While many garden centers only sell rhubarb plants they’re actually quite easy to grow from seed. You can find a great post on growing rhubarb here.

Perennial Onions

For some, growing a patch of perennial onions is enough to supply all their onion needs without having to start tons of onions from seed each year.


Thyme makes and excellent perennial ground cover with the added benefit of smelling nice and being edible.

Salad Burnet

Often said to taste like cucumber, salad burnet will come up early and feed you long before any actual cucumbers will be available.


A highly sought after medicinal, ginseng takes awhile to grow but is well worth the wait!


Sage is both edible and medicinal and simple to grow from seed.


On top of being a commonly used culinary herb, oregano’s small white flowers also do a great job of attracting pollinators.

Garden Huckleberry

These dark blue berries are one of the few berries that are easy to grow from seed and they make excellent jam. You can read more about them here.


This flower has a lot going for it. Echinacea is not only beautiful but a great species for attracting pollinators and it’s highly medicinal.

Lemon Balm

As a member of the mint family, lemon balm gets established and spreads so easily you may actually want to make an effort to keep it contained.

Don’t be afraid to add a few perennials to your garden this year. They’re quite affordable and have many benefits. Even if you decide you need to change your garden layout most can be transplanted without harm later on.

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Garlic and Perennial (Multiplier) Onions: Harvest and Curing

Lisa Dermer & Ira Wallace

Harvesting and curing garlic and perennial onion bulbs is a balancing act: the crop shouldn’t be harvested too early or too late; the curing (drying) process should not be too fast or too slow. Luckily, with a little know-how it’s easy to hit the sweet spot and maximize your harvest of high-quality bulbs with excellent storage quality.

Preparing for the Harvest

As a guideline, know the estimated harvest time for the varieties you’re growing (this can vary quite a bit by type), but be ready to start checking your bulbs earlier. Warm, sunny weather will bring on maturity sooner, and waiting too long may damage the bulbs. On our Central Virginia farm, the beginning of the harvest has varied by up to 3 weeks (late May to mid-June).

A few weeks before your estimated harvest date, pull off the mulch around the bulbs and irrigate less, or stop watering altogether. This will prevent rotting and toughen the skins for storage.

The Garlic Harvest

Keep an eye on your garlic plants: as soon as one third of the leaves turn yellow or brown the bulbs are probably ready to harvest. If you’re unsure, use this simple test to check: dig up a sample bulb and cut it in half: if the cloves have separated, your garlic is ready. If the bulb is still one undifferentiated mass, you should wait a few more days.

There should be at least 4–6 green leaves remaining at harvest. Do not wait for the tops to turn entirely brown and dry before harvesting your garlic! By then the outer scales will have decayed — the ones that hold all the cloves together in one smooth-skinned bulb. If you wait too long and these leaves die, you’ll have ugly bulbs that are hard to clean and keep poorly in storage. (If your harvest is delayed and all the leaves have turned brown on some of your garlic, use those bulbs first because they won’t last as long in storage.)

If the soil is very dry, lightly irrigate the night before your harvest. Carefully loosen the soil next to and under the bulbs using a digging fork. Don’t just pull garlic out of the ground. Be careful not to bruise or cut the bulbs — give them a wide berth by keeping your digging fork 10-12 inches away from the plants, and inserting straight down before lifting.

Gently remove excess soil from the bulbs using your fingers or a soft brush (don’t bang the bulbs against each other!). The tender freshly-dug bulbs need to be handled carefully to avoid damage. Keep the bulbs out of the sun and rain until you can bring them indoors. Don’t wash them. Curing (see below) is the next step in handling your harvest.

The Perennial (Multiplier) Onion Harvest

Shallots are the best known type of perennial onions, also called multiplier or potato onions. Perennial onions are grown from a bulb rather than seeds or sets: they’re planted in the fall and harvested in late spring, just like garlic.

Prior to harvest, the neck region of multiplier onions weakens and the green tops begin to fall down. When you see the first sign of this, pull off any mulch from around the plants and stop watering: this lets the skins toughen for storage.

When approximately 50% of the tops have fallen, the crop has sufficiently ripened and is ready for harvesting. There is no advantage to breaking over the tops of onions still standing (in fact this may shorten the storage life of certain varieties). Not all the tops fall over at the same time. You can harvest the mature onions every few days. Harvest those with tops still standing after 7–10 days: keep these separate from the rest and eat them first because they will not keep as well.

To harvest multipliers, pull the clusters or gently dig them out. Try to do this during dry weather. Don’t leave the bulbs exposed to hot sun or rain and don’t wash them. Lay the tops over the freshly harvested bulbs until you can bring them under shelter. See below for the next step: curing.

Curing (Drying) Garlic and Perennial Onions

Curing is a fancy word for properly drying your bulbs. A good cure improves the flavor, storage quality, and hardiness of both garlic and perennial onion bulbs. The goal is to dry the outer wrapper layers completely while keeping the bulbs or cloves plump and deliciously aromatic. It takes anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months to properly cure bulbs.

Many factors influence the rate of curing, including humidity, temperature, air circulation, the size of the bulbs, and the number of green leaves at harvest. High humidity can slow drying, so give your bulbs plenty of space, good ventilation, and complete protection from rain. Drying too quickly can cause shriveled bulbs that don’t store well, so dry bulbs out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat.

We cure our bulbs on the upper level of our pole barn. We use fans to make sure the area is adequately ventilated and to keep the humidity low. You can make your own low-cost exhaust fan by fitting a box fan tightly in a window frame (fill any gaps around the fan for a tight fit).

We hang our garlic to cure: for soft neck garlic you can make braids, though this can be time-consuming. Otherwise use a slip knot that will tighten with the necks as they dry and shrink. To do this, just fold a string in half, then pull the two free ends through the loop, and cinch this around several necks. Then tie the bunch to the main string (or wire, rafter, rack, etc).

We cure our perennial onions on shelves made with hardware cloth. You could also hang a stretched sheet or other breathable material or mesh. The onion necks may break as they dry, so hanging them can lead to bulbs falling and getting bruised.

Every few days check for and remove any spoiled bulbs, being careful to handle the bulbs gently and as little as possible. The high water content right after harvest lets bulbs bruise easily, making them susceptible to rot. Once curing is complete, the bulbs are much less easily damaged.

Once curing is complete, separate the individual perennial onion bulbs from the clusters. For both garlic and onion bulbs, cut the dried tops 1 inch above the base and trim the roots to ¼ inch. Your bulbs are now ready for eating, storage, or planting.