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February 3, 2010 > Pat Kite's Garden: The largest onion in the world

Pat Kite's Garden: The largest onion in the world

By Pat Kite

It's onion-planting time. Do you like a challenge? Set your garden sights on growing the world's biggest onion. Why do it? Why not?

The Guinness World Record holder is the Kelsae Sweet Giant Onion, Allium cepa, at 15 pounds 5.5 ounces. The world's heaviest onion is also from England accomplished by a retired engineer: 16 pounds 8 1/2 ounces. He received a bonus of about $600 for breaking the previous heavyweight record. Lest you think the British have a hammerlock on onions with such fun occasions as the Newent-Onion-Fayre, a tradition dating back 800 years, move on to our own Walla Walla, Washington.

Each July there is the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, where you can enjoy the Sweet Onion Olympics and even participate in an Onion Eating Contest. In case you are giving this contest serious consideration, the Guinness book has 48 seconds as the record for the fastest time to eat a raw onion.

There are, of course, all kinds of onions. My Seed Savers yearbook mentions the Allium cepas Australian Brown, Yellow of Parma from Italy, Noord Hollandse Bloedrode from Holland, White Portugal, Stockton Red, and Fresno White, all "Common" onions: white, yellow-brown and red-purple. There are also multiplier onions, such as Grandpa Achor's Potato onion and Matador Red, and Bunching Onions such as Welsh Bunching and Mongolian Bunching. China is the biggest grower of onions, with 10 million tons a year of dry onions, plus 277,000 tons of green onions and shallots. That puts China well ahead of the other major onion producing countries, the USA, Turkey, Iran and India, with only a million tons a year.

The cultivated onion dates back to prehistoric times. Remnants of onion bulbs have been found dating back to 5000 B.C. in the Middle East. Ancient Egyptians worshiped onions. For them, eternity was symbolically embodied in the circle-within-a-circle onion structure.

While peeling onions may make you weep, they have been valued for medicinal purposes going back forever. If you are lucky enough to have an elder parent, ask about those long-ago treatments. Onions were used for coughs, colds, baldness, earaches, wasp and bee stings, and to take away the smell of new paint. A string of onions hung over a door supposedly absorbed disease germs as they entered a home. However it was bad luck to keep a cut raw onion in the house. Superstition was it might attract illness into the house from the outside air. So eat or discard promptly.

To grow onions, buy seed or small bulbs. Plant bulbs about an inch deep in full sun. Onions are shallow rooted, so make sure they get enough water. If you have oodles, I am a gourmand of fried onion rings.

Spring is almost here!

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