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Garden in the City: The Magical Powers of Onions

By Patty Wetli | September 30, 2013 1:17pm
 DNAinfo.com's resident urban gardener looks at the vegetable that gave Chicago its name.
Garden in the City: Onions
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LINCOLN SQUARE — And now we come to the plant for which Chicago was probably, maybe named: the smelly onion.

As legend has it, wild onions — or possibly, maybe garlic or leeks — used to cover the land on which the city was built. You can still forage for the plant today, just not on public land, and impress all your friends by calling your pickings "ramps."

Ramps are on my irrational hate list — along with anything labeled a "coulis" — but I am a big fan of the far humbler green onion, aka, scallion. I like the milder taste and the fact that they're infinitely easier to chop than a regular onion. No matter how many cooking shows I watch, I still have emergency-room-trip-in-the-making knife skills.

I don't even know how many scallions I have in my garden: the seedlings were sold in bunches and I wound up scattering them all over my plot. Actually, I initially planted them as they came — in a clump — until a neighboring gardener pointed out that might not be the best recipe for success.

I put onions next to peppers and broccoli, kale and basil, which, I discovered much to my amazement, was a smart thing to do — they ward off pests like rabbits. Score one for serendipity.

Truthfully, I kind of forgot about my onions during most of the summer while showier plants captured my attention. But now that it's fall and fewer plants are in bloom, green onions have become my new favorite thing.

Note: "green onions" proper are simply regular onions harvested early. What I've got in my garden are more likely Japanese bunching onions or Welsh onions, which will never mature into a large bulb.

Looking back on my utopian ideal of popping over to my garden for a daily dose of veggies, green onions actually come closest to meeting that vision. Want some color or flavoring for a salad? Go grab an onion. In the mood to harvest something, anything, and Brussels sprouts are still refusing to cooperate? Onions are happy to oblige.

While I wait for my newly planted crops of peas, beans and turnips to come in, I've taken to rationing my onions along with my carrots in a bid to prolong my garden's productivity. Then, lo, I learned that green onions have the power to spontaneously regenerate.

Stop. The. Presses.

I confirmed the fact via multiple websites: If you snip the edible green stalk of a scallion and leave the root in water or soil, it will grow back in mere days, like the plant world's version of the everlasting gobstopper. I've seen what appear to be undoctored photos as proof.

I'm totally going to give this a try and will report back because if it's true, dear readers, we will never have to buy onions again.

On a side note: One pest onions don't dissuade with their stench — pill bugs. They've returned with a vengeance and I've caught them loitering around my carrots. I smushed a couple dozen with my gloved hands and set out grapefruit traps.

Dudes are messing with the wrong gardener.