Learn how to grow I’itoi onions, one of the easiest vegetables to plant and grow. Today, this once little known and nearly extinct vegetable is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as home gardeners and commercial growers alike appreciate the ease of growing and delicious flavor of I’itoi onions.

I’itoi onions (pronounced “EE-toy”) have a long history in the Sonoran Desert. According to legend, I’itoi – the creator of the O’odham people – called his people together and presented them with onions to plant and share. Learn how to grow I’itoi onions, and you can share them with your friends and neighbors too!

How to Grow I'itoi Onions

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

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1. Understand how to grow I'itoi Onions

I’itoi onions are a multiplier onion (allium cepa var. Aggregatum). The onions do not produce seeds but are grown from bulbs planted in the ground. The planted bulb multiplies and is propagated by division of bulbs. This easy-to-grow onion rarely (if ever) sends up flower stalks and bolts. I’itoi onions tolerate and even thrive in the Sonoran Desert’s difficult growing conditions. One bulb becomes 8 or 10 bulbs, which in turn become more bulbs. You will be amazed how quickly these bulbs multiply. 

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

2. Plant I’itoi onions correctly

In the low deserts of Arizona, plant I’itoi onions in the fall. Obtain bulbs from Native Seed Search or other growers. In cooler areas, plant I’itoi onions in the spring. Plant each bulb about an inch deep, 8-12 inches apart. I’itoi onions tolerate native soil well and do not require additional feeding. However, richer soil will produce larger bulbs and shoots. I’itoi onions also tolerate dry conditions and will respond to monsoons and other rains with growth. Just as with amendments to the soil, regular watering produces larger bulbs and shoots.

How to Grow I'itoi Onions

3. Plant I’itoi onions as companion plants

Because I’itoi onions are easy to grow, it is simple to plant them throughout the garden. Onions are excellent companion plants for brassicas, beets, strawberries and tomatoes. Simply plant one bulb near the plant and the I’itoi onions will grow and divide, and provide the benefits of companion planting. Do not plant near peas and beans as plants in the onion family may impede their growth. For more information on preventing pests organically, read this post.

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

4. Use all parts of the I’itoi onion

As green shoots develop, they can be harvested and used like chives in recipes. The greens have a mild flavor and work well in most recipes that call for chives. You can also harvest bulbs as needed throughout the growing season. To use bulb, wash well and peel back skin to remove it. The bulbs have a mild peppery flavor similar to shallots. They are delicious sautéed and in recipes that call for shallots or onions.

5. Gather and share your harvest

When the greens die down, the bulbs are ready to harvest and divide. Pull up clumps of onions and allow to cure in a shady dry location for several days. Remove dried up shoots and divide onions. Store in a cool dry location.

Pinch yourself when you realize that your few planted bulbs multiplied many, many times! Each time you harvest I’itoi onions, save some to plant and share some with others. Teach others how to grow I’itoi onions, and share what you’ve learned!

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable
How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

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How to Grow I'itoi Onions
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8 Comments on How to Grow I’itoi Onions

  1. For many years (about 30), I have been looking for the multiplying onions my grandma and a great aunt used to grow in east Texas in the Houston area. They *never* bloomed and never went dormant. I think I’ve figured out they were actually shallots; a variety called “Louisiana Evergreen”, which I can’t find anywhere.

    I recently bought some no-name multiplying onions off eBay that look and smell like I remember, except these were dormant when I received them. (they sprouted immediately when I planted them) We’ll see if they are close to what I remember.

    I have also planted a few ping pong ball sized shallots I bought at an Asian market. They also look and smell right, but they are not multiplying like the ones I remember. They multiplied once, but then it doesn’t look like the new bulblets keep dividing. They are making real bulbs instead and will then probably go dormant. They are also producing scapes (flower stalks) but don’t seem to be putting much energy into them so that’s okay, but it’s an indicator they are not the same as what I’m looking for.

    [Finally getting to the point] I live in southern Minnesota now; the south end of zone 4. Would I’Itoi onions survive the cold up here if I keep them covered with leaves and snow in the winter for protection? Can they be lifted and stored for 5 months and then planted in the spring? (yes, winters are 5 months long here) Thanks.

    • Not sure about surviving the cold outside… but I think they would be fine if you brought them in and stored them inside. Be sure to store them in a paper sack or something that breathes. Best of luck. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to know how they do in cold climates.

  2. If planting in the fall in the low desert, about how long or what time of year until the greens die and they are ready for harvest? Is there an ideal environment to save the bulbs for next season, i.e. in the fridge or dark pantry?

    • This can be anywhere from April – August depending on where they are planted. The bulbs do mold very easily so keeping them cool and dry is important. The fridge or dark pantry would work, be sure there is plenty of airflow so they don’t get moldy.

    • I haven’t had them flower before. You can let them flower and save the seeds. Or if harvest and eat soon, they won’t store well once they bolt.

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