Egyptian Onions, Cobra Comparison

Our 10 day weather forecast looks like the dead of winter with the first 8 days forecasted to snow. It started off with 12 inches. A huge contrast with the severe drought we had all summer. Life is unpredictable and helped along by ages sapping energy, I’ve come to realize a garden should be based upon hard times. Ole Reliables keep food coming. Egyptian Onions are just that, a reliable crop year after year through differing weather patterns. I moved mine and am increasing their numbers in anticipation of featuring them as my main onion crop.

Why would I want to go to using mostly Egyptian onions? After all, Cobra, my favorite long-day onion, holds in storage until almost planting time. But when I placed them side by side in a comparison, the answer was clear.

Two years to complete full plant cycle One year to complete full plant cycle
Seed (viable for one to two years)Instead of seeds, the mother plant forms topsets with bulblets every year.
Requires grow lights or greenhouse to start seeds in the spring in our area.Winters over in the ground and produces multiple new plants in the ground and on the top.
Mature bulbs store for a yearMature bulbs and bulblets store for a few months but if there is a longer season they can produce a continual crop for months.
Long-day onion medium sizeMedium size ( smaller than the Cobra)
Cobra Onion Gone to Seed

The Cobra onion begins as a seed planted in the spring which takes up to 2 weeks to sprout depending on the temperature. Our house and climate is cool. At 10 to 12 weeks you transplant the seedlings into the garden. Most of us skip this part and buy bulblets which are prone to shoot up and go to seed instead of forming a large bulb. Or we buy starts which are more fragile in our volatile spring weather. Most of these bulbs will be food on the table but some must be wintered over or stored and replanted in the spring. These last year bulbs will then develop seed and the bulb will shrink and become the food. You save the seed and start the process all over again. It is a two year process. Two years of labor in every crop. You can have onions in the two different stages at the same time but here it takes up precious grow light space.

Topset Onions on Egyptian Onion Plant

The Egyptian onion is planted and it multiplies in the ground, plus produces small onions on the top of the stem. The topset onions grow in size, which adds weight that topples them over to the ground. The small onions then grow roots and plant themselves. The main work load is replanting as the clumps formed become thick, entangled, crowded onions, grow smaller. If not divided and replanted, but left in the ground, the onion will divide and form a cluster or clump of onion bulbs in the ground at the same time as topset bulblets form. It is why they often call them Walking Onions as in the right conditions, they can expand 24 inches in a year. They are hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Onions are a mainstay of our savory diet. That means we need LOT’S of them. So one year I experimented and used very few fresh onions but instead used home-made powdered. Keep in mind the store powdered onion is about half fillers and additives. My food took on a whole new level of taste. Yes, there are a few recipes where fresh is imperative but for the most part, I had no problem substituting dried for fresh.

So even if Egyptian onions don’t store as well as Cobra, they give months to get my other canning and drying done before I have to work on them. They take care of themselves and winter over outside. I don’t mind transplanting but I need my limited space under the grow lights to start other fruits and vegetables. I find the Egyptian onions are very hardy and require less water. Will I still grow Cobra, you bet as I believe you should never ever, ever put all your eggs in one basket. But I see a way in which to not be so reliant on them and in turn on others which offer the sets and starts for sale. I predict that Egyptian onions can supply us with fresh onions in various forms from early spring, which is late April to mid May, all the way into late December. Now to put my plan into action and test it over a course of several years to see how it works with different weather patterns.

Save labor, time, and money, I’m up for that. Besides, I love the flavor of Egyptian onions and eat them top to bottom or is it bottom to top? I’ve been experimenting a little with them already.


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