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-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
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.
2. Plant I’itoi onions correctly
- In the low desert of Arizona, plant I’itoi onions with the monsoon moisture in July; continue planting through November.
- In cold winter areas plant I’itoi onions in the spring.
- Plant each bulb about an inch deep, 6-8 inches apart. For square foot gardening plant 4 bulbs per square.
- 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.
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.
4. Use all parts of the I’itoi onion
As green shoots develop, they can be harvested by trimming them off the onion 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 individual 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
In the low desert of Arizona, harvest I’itoi onions for storage during the month of May. Pull up clumps of onions and allow to cure following the directions below.
It’s important to cure I’itoi onions before storing for longer storage life. Onions may rot and mold if not cured and stored properly.
How to cure I’itoi onions:
- Choose a shady, protected location that is around 75-80°F. Provide a slight breeze with a fan if possible if it is indoors.
- Lay the onions out in a single layer on a rack or floor
- Allow the onion stems to wither and the papery skins to tighten around the onions.
- Trim stems to about 1″ when the necks are moisture free and completely tight and dry.
- Separate clumps into single onions if desired.
Store cured I’itoi onions in a dry, cool place. A great way to store onions is in mesh net bags (I use these mesh bags from Amazon) hung up in a cool place.
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!