Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Growing Sprouted Onions

I'm quite perplexed.

I was talking to a friend the other day about growing onions. For a few years now (I think this is the third year), I've grown onions in my container garden from already sprouted onions. You know...the ones you buy and then forget about until one day there's something green growing in your pantry? On more than one occasion I've actually eaten the sprouted onion, preserving the growing parts (sprout and roots) and then planted it and grown it again, essentially eating the same onion twice. So, I was telling my friend how to grow sprouted onions because I've found it quite easy (and also fairly simple) to do, when I thought, Hey, I should write a tutorial!

I took a bunch of photographs of the process, and then out of curiosity, I did an internet search for growing sprouted onions, to see if I could learn anything else about how other people do this. Here's where the perplexing part comes in: almost all (I'd say approximately 95%) of the question and answer pages I found said that: 1. You cannot eat onions that have sprouted; they are rotten, and 2. If you plant a sprouted onion, it will produce flowers (which you can then harvest for seeds to plant next year) but it will not produce an onion bulb that you can eat.

I took a photo of last year's onion plants, and I even have a photograph of one of them post-harvest in my beef stew recipe. What I'm sayin' is, I know it works, and I'm very curious to know why it's working for me and not for so many other people. (I'm not that great with plants, so that can't be it.) Maybe it's about the climate? Or the type of onion I used?

Well, I've never tried this process with red onions before, so this will be quite the experiment (now that I know this has been working for me against great odds).

Here's what I do, in case you want to try your hand at it, too:
  • Buy some onions and let them sprout in your pantry or a drawer...wherever, really. I actually bought these on sale, pre-sprouted from the farmer's market.
  • Peel the outer papery layers, like you would if you were going to chop the onion, taking care to preserve any roots that might be growing between layers:
  • Cut into the onion, nearly to the center, trying to avoid the sprouting center portion:
  • Remove the rest of that half of the onion, exposing the center:
  • Carefully cut around the base, removing the rest of the second half of the bulb, until you just have the center left:
  • You can eat the portion that you removed, as long as it hasn't gotten mushy. (My husband ate some of this one raw and said it was delicious and sweet.) You might want to discard any parts that have started to get kind of "leafy" (like the dark purple tops of the center of this onion).
  • Take your sprouted onion center(s) and plant them in soil, with the white roots down and the green part sticking up. (I'm not saying this to be a jerk—I think bulbs are confusing.)
  • Water them, give them sun, and watch them grow! I usually pull mine up when the green parts have dried out at the end of the season, but you can pull them up any time after you see the onion bulb starting to stick up above the soil.
  • You can also eat the green shoots (these are called Spring onions or scallions) though I have never done that with mine.
I've also done it without preserving the sprouted (green) portion and just planting the root part which has started to grow. Just cut off the bulb and plant the roots (sticking down) and water it.

I'm very curious to know, have you ever grown onions from sprouted ones? Did you have the same results that I have had, or did your onion grow flowers? Do you have any gardening insights as to why I've gotten so lucky with onions in the past? I can't wait to hear!

75 comments:

  1. we have grown onions this way as well - I was unaware that it's supposed to be impossible lol

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  2. @AmandaRuth: Glad to know I'm not the only one! =)

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    1. Wow.I'm inspired by what you dd.I tried planting the bulb with sprout thrice but it didn't produce bulb afterwards.Good thing,I found your blog and learned from it.I will follow what you did.I hope it works this time.

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    2. Wow.I'm inspired by what you dd.I tried planting the bulb with sprout thrice but it didn't produce bulb afterwards.Good thing,I found your blog and learned from it.I will follow what you did.I hope it works this time.

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  3. You can grow onions this way that have not sprouted as well. Just break down the onion to the center as you have here, except cut the top off, and make your way down the core/cores there will always be a tiny sprout an inch or so long. Try to get part of the woody section below the little sprout, or some roots themselves, and that will root more easily, but you can even plant the sprout if you accidentally break it off the whole root system entirely with some luck. Now eat your onion, and plant several more!

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    1. Excellent insight added to an excellent Article .... thanks kindly for sharing. Am wondering if it matters what time of the year we plant them. Am gonna try this in my Greenhouse and see what happens.

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  4. This is so cool, I wanna try it. Have you ever tried garlic?

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    1. To plant garlic you just plant the cloves individually.

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    2. I haven't done garlic yet, but I know it needs to be panted in the Fall.

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    3. Garlic is really simple to grow, just break the bulb apart and plant the cloves individually, but make sure to leave the papery outside on otherwise they'll rot. Just keep in mind that most grocery-store garlic is treated so that they won't grow, so you'll want to buy it from a farmer's market or the like. I usually plant mine in the spring and harvest mid-late summer, and then do a second crop indoors (I live in the US Pacific coast zone). Garlic grows very nicely in containers but they are very attractive to aphids, so plant some kind of deterrent plant close to it (I use Nasturtiums, which are also an edible plant :D)

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    4. I just searched this because we had a sprouted onion and my daughter planted it. She didn't remove the rest or anything. I don't know if it will work or not.

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  5. About a week ago I stuck a little purple pearl onion that had sprouted to about 2 inches into soil. This onion had no roots yet and I plopped it in the dirt whole (no cuts).

    The sprouts burned by day two in direct sun, so I figured I might as well see what happened if I took it to shade. I replanted in a box that drains well and left it where it gets direct sunlight for only a few hours a day. A week later the sprouts have tripled and are a foot tall.

    Now what? :)

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  6. @Angie: Excellent! Now you just wait. =)

    When the green shoots start to wither and/or the onion is largely visible above the surface of the soil, it is ready to be pulled up. (You can always pull them up earlier than that if you want to use them sooner, they'll just be smaller.) Also, try not to let your onion grow flowers (cut off flowering shoots) if you're hoping to be able to grow a bulb to eat.

    Good luck & let me know how it turns out!

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  7. I'm glad I found this post! I grew red and white onions last year, and hung them all in my pantry to dry. Nearly all the red ones have sprouted and I have just been planting them. Didn't think to cut off the good parts to eat, but I will next time. I read the same things you did about not being able to grow onions from a sprouted onion, so we'll see.

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  8. Well, i just found this post and am glad. Told my hubby not to buy THAT bag of onions, a day later we have sprouts.

    I will be giving this a try myself. Must be easier than dang tomatoes.

    Karen

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    1. Tomatoes are tricky! I really hope this works well for you.

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    2. Amy: A trick with Tomatoes, they will self sow in warm soil, but if you do not have a long growing season you will not get as much fruit. It is best to start the plants indoors early, January/late February, in a sunny location. When you transplant them, take off the bottom leaves and leave at the minimum 5 at the top and plant the plant up to the first set of leaves you leave on. In that way they get a good root system. You can lay the stem on it's side if you have a really tall plant. Just remember to lay it in such a way the top leaves stand up straight when you cover them with good soil. Soil is really important for any plant. Keep them moist until they are established. Plenty of sun, as sun makes them ripen sooner. Put your stake in at that time. Do not plant them in the same soil as the previous year or where potatoes where planted the year before, due to the possibility of disease. Plant Basil nearby to bring out the flavor as a companion plant. I like heirlooms such as Heinz, Bloody Butcher, Box Car WIllie, Abe Lincoln, Black Krim, Black Cherry, Amish Paste, Purple Tomatillo, for preserving and eating fresh.

      We have a greenhouse and this year I cut off he top branches of two plants and put them in the bucket, It's mid December and they are still alive... although I am not getting fruit off of them, just blooms, they are large enough if they live, that I will get a lot of fruit off of them very early after they are transplanted. We shall see, this is my first time trying that....

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    4. I have great luck just burying a bunch of tomatoes (2 inches of soil) the year before and getting hundreds of sprouts to transplant around.

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  9. So it's January in the Northwest. There is some snow outside (not much, but it's 35 degrees in the middle of the day). I just came back from vacation in a warmer place to 2 sprouted red onions on my kitchen counter. Can I do this cut-the-edible-part-away thing and plant these in pots?

    NewMommy

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    1. I also live in the Northwest. I'm not sure if this would work this time of year, but I think it's definitely worth a shot! Maybe you could keep them in pots in the warm kitchen (but near a light source) until it's warm enough to put them outside. Good luck! Let me know how it turns out. =)

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  10. Thanks for the tips! I told my husband that if it grows sprouts or roots, it is plantable. I asked him about the chicken and the egg too. Farm boys, I swear. lol. I'm glad you mentioned the scallions though as I was wanting to grow some.

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  11. Can you tell me how long it takes from the time you plant the spouted onion until the onion is ready to harvest? Is there any particular time frame that the sprouted onion needs to be planted? I had also done an internet search, and the only place I found that even said that this was possible said that it took 3 months and that there were only certain times you could plant them--but it did not tell when these times were.

    Thanks for this tutorial.

    Non-green thumb

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  12. Yay! Thanks for this post, I'm going to go plant my onion :-)

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  13. I finally figured it out. Other people just plant the onion without cutting it, the way onions grow, it is not likely that baby onions will grow from it. But you cut out just the bulb portion, so only one onion is growing from your bulb. It all makes sense now.

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  14. This is the organic way to grow onion I will surely go with this way!

    http://www.tileflair.co.uk/category-is-wall-tiles/

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  15. I am Manikant from New Delhi, India. I have a small backyard kitchen garden. I tried to grow onion many times, but I was totally unfortunate. I tried the seeds as well bulb. May be somewhere I am still going wrong. If anybody can explain in detail I would be obliged. Amy growing tomatoes are not tricky in India at all. We just spread the seed and it grows. But yes, need to prepare the soil beforehand. Soil should have enough moisture.

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  16. im glad to find this post... one day while cleaning out my pantry i found an onion thst had been forgotten...had fallen into a crevice and began to sprout.....it had been sprouting for a long time im guessing caus the onion part was soft and wilted and the green part was huge and there were several sticking out,,,i have never grown anything but i thought ...for fun ..im gonna plant this...i took it in the yard.. dug a hole..stuck it in with green sticking out...poured some water on it.........then forgot lol.....was cutting my grass yesterday when i saw a huge thick green thing with some white tiny flowers on top and was going to mow it like a weed till my husband said......isnt that your onion...i said my what? lol i think i did it in april maybe it was march...dont know for sure... my question now is ...how will i know if its done and what do i do now lol...i really diddnt expect it to grow...

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    1. I usually wait until I can see some onion popping up at soil level. Either that or until the green shoots start to wilt, shrivel, or turn brown...then you should definitely dig it up. Good luck!

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    2. I have just read your post and I am from Cairns, Australia. I had a spouted red onion in my kitchen and I have always just planted them whole, but this time I took your advice and pl$anted it in sections. I got 6 separate onion spouts. can't wait to see the result!
      Thanks
      Margot

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    3. Hi Margot,

      You broke up one onion into six and then planted them? Cool. I'm going to try that.

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  17. Just tried it, will let you know if it works for me. My 7 year old son and I have been working on planting different food parts the past few weeks. So far we have planted 2 pineapple tops...want to try avocado and potato next.

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    1. Avocado is very tempermental. My mom and I have been trying to grow them since I was a little kid and Im 26 now. Only over the past few years did we get two to grow and even once they started to have a stem and leaves they are still very tricky. The dont like alkaline soil and though I have read the like lots of sun my always withers in direct sunlight. They also do best in a constant warm climate. Depending on growing conditions it can take years for a plant to reach maturity and fruit. Some avocado plants will never produce fruit according to google. Best of luck to you and your son!

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    2. Try sprouting your avocado pit first; put four toothpicks into it and balance it over the top of a glass, bowl or jar full of water. Pit should be submerged about halfway. Place on a windowsill or other sunny place and wait. We have grown two massive avocado trees this way; over six feet tall!

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  18. My mother has grown onions this way. I recently found four sprouting onions in my pantry and am going to attempt it myself :) I don't understand why it should/would be impossible to do... Unless it has something to do with modern onions' engineering or something?

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  19. Thanks for sharing this-- I'm Googling to find out if I can plant the onion that's sprouted on my counter, and I'm finding much the same as you describe-- many people say it can't be done. I was pretty sure it could, so I'm really glad to find your post to confirm that! :) My kids and I will be planting our "new" onion plant this evening!

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  20. So far I have planted and killed two onions... they seemed healthy and grew at first but didn't make it beyond a month. I may be watering too heavily, I suppose. I will keep trying! Thanks for the post.

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  21. I tried growing a sweet onion last year and ended up with a lovely flowering plant. I'm going to take the plunge and plant the red onion that's sprouted in my kitchen. Maybe I'll be more successful in my attempt to get a real onion by following your lead. I sort of hate planting it because it's making my kitchen smell like onion all the time.

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  22. We had an onion growing in the corner of our compost pile this year! I'm not real sure where it came from. I always cut the top and bottoms of my onions before slicing and I know I have cut a few that had already begun sprouting. I also through out one whole onion that had rotted too far through to simply peel off layers. (We don't have that happen very often since we tend to go through onions quickly.) The kids and I were excited and a bit too impatient so we pulled it up to check it out before properly researching. :-) The bulb is small but other than that it seems perfect. Now we're going to 'accidentally' let some sprout and plant them in our experimental garden. (Experimental because we plant random things in sometimes random places and just see what happens.)

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  23. Can I do this indoors? I live in an apt so putting this outside would not be safe for the plant. (people, environment, etc)

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    1. Yes, you can most definitely do this indoors! I almost exclusively container gardened until last year, and I've been growing sprouted onions for 4 or 5 years now. Best of luck!

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  24. I am SO glad I found this post! For years now I have been convinced that it's logical that I could grow a sprouted onion and time and time again everything I read says I cannot. A couple thoughts and questions: First of all, nothing I have ever read explains to peel away the meat of the onion and plant ONLY the very-center from sprout to root the way you did. So THAT may be why they're rotting on people; they're either planting the entire onion (and so it rots) or they're cutting the top of at the sprout and planting that (no roots)! I was tickled pink just now peeling away my sprouted onion to get to the center and shaking my head at how I missed that simple logic before.

    I am curious about a couple things: Mine (and seemingly yours in the pics) seem to have a two-part center. It looks as though if you break it in half you'd easily have two plants; hence, two onions, since the sprouts appear to be mostly separate. I didn't dare do this, so I planted the two together, but can you split it?

    Also, and this will REALLY show how garden-dumb I am; Will each of these planted sprouts (not split as I just mentioned but the way you describe) produce ONE onion? I've never grown onions before and would like to grow as many as possible. I guess what I'm asking is, does 12 sprouted onions planted equal 12 new onions (if grown successfully)?

    Thanks!

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    1. I think you could break it in half and have two plants, but I was concerned about disturbing the root by breaking it in half. If you break yours in half, please let me know how it goes!

      Yes, each sprout will produce one onion bulb. Definitely not a dumb question! ;)

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  25. I've always been told it can't be done, but I thought that was silly too. I'm finally going to try it this year - I just hadn't thought of removing the rest of the current bulb. Thanks for this!

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  26. I planted two sprouted onions (whole) last year, collected the seeds when they flowered, and used the greens as scallions, but I thought the bulb was used up by making the greens, so I didn't even look for it. I just planted my first sprouted onion using your method described here today.

    I'll echo Laura Jean's question, above - do you know if splitting the two-part center and planting separately will successfully yield two separate onions? Mine was also that way, but I played it safe and planted it as a single unit.

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    1. I believe it will yield two onions if you split the bulb. They might grow kind of stuck together if you plant them without splitting them, sort of like a double-lobed onion.

      Let me know how it turns out!

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  27. I never know they need to cut, have planted them with whole bulb so what next?

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  28. Fascinating, and so glad to read your story, I recently did as you described but then tried to look it up to find out more and was disappointed to read everywhere that it doesn't work or just produces a flower. I'm glad to see that may be wrong! I wonder if it's just a lot of misinformation out there? (sadly that's often the case.)

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  29. hi i am from india and am new to this. does each onion that we plant give more than one onion ? all the pictures i see show one onion per planted onion. what is the point then of planting one onion to get one onion only.hope my question is not too dumb. thanks . would love an answer.

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    1. Try Egyptian Walking Onions.... they are perennial and will give more than one onion bulb .... just leave a few in the ground for next year. You can do the same with garlic, leave a few for next year and the bulbs will double.

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  31. Okay, I ended up here because I was curious about the topic. This is what I did: I stuck a sprouted red onion from my pantry in my vegetable bed back in April or so (absolutely NO preparation, didn't peel it or cut it, just stuck it in with the sprouted end up. I did water it along with the other vegetables in the bed, which were peppers and tomatoes.) And the result was that I (1) cut "green onions" from its sprouts, which grew very tall, all summer, and (2) just yesterday, August 29, all the green parts having withered and the onion bulb beginning to poke itself above the ground, I decided to pull the bulb up and to my surprise found it had turned into THREE gigantic, intact red onions! They are super dense and heavy, like little bowling balls. We are going to use one in our dinner tonight.

    Talk about easy to grow. This is California (Zone 9?) where things do grow pretty readily.

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    1. Sounds like you may have lucked and gotten a potato onion, you should try replanting one to see if it multiplies again. ^^

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  32. I put the 'core' of a sprouted onion in the ground a couple of weeks ago, and it was apparent today that it was growing 3 separate shoots. Dug it up and separated the 3 shoots, making sure each had some of the new roots that had sprouted at the base, and then replanted the 3.

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    1. Please keep us updated as to how this turned out!

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  33. Very informative blog. I actually have grown onion from my basket as well when I over bought the supplies and forgot about it completely until I saw the green leave growing. I was thinking to myself, hey why not try to plant it see if I can grow any in an apartment unit. I came across your blog and like your write-up. I find it very easy to follow your steps. Although I might need to google more about how to grow a plant in an apartment environment. Thanks for sharing.

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  34. Excellent Article... It's mid December here, so am going to try your method in a bucket of excellent soil in my Greenhouse and see what happens. Am in zone 7. I have planted them before whole... let them go to flower for the seeds and scallions Next time I will harvest before they go to seed and see how big the bulb is. Found the bulb to be small when I let them go to seed. Makes sense... all the energy went into growing the plant and blooms.

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  35. One tip I can offer to help them not flower as easily is to plant them shallow. Onion bulbs planted deep make for better "green onions" but for big onions, plant shallow. I'm disappointed to find 3 of my sweet candy onions from the fall have sprouted, but I'm going to try dissecting them tomorrow and hope for new ones :). Thanks!

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  36. One tip I can offer to help them not flower as easily is to plant them shallow. Onion bulbs planted deep make for better "green onions" but for big onions, plant shallow. I'm disappointed to find 3 of my sweet candy onions from the fall have sprouted, but I'm going to try dissecting them tomorrow and hope for new ones :). Thanks!

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  37. Hi folks, I am from New Zealand. I did just what I have read above before finding this wonderful blog. I didn't pot my onions (7) but unceremoniously jammed them into the ground at the edge of the garden plot, by the rhubarb and forgot about them. That was probably because the leaves of the rhubarb took off and covered the evidence. Yesterday I thought what is that lurking there, when weeding. Yes they have all grown but wait there is 30 odd tops not 7 so guess there are a lot of multiplying heads lurking under the soil. I want to dig and see what I have got but I promise I will be patient So to all you folks thinking of doing something like this, just do it dont think. You will loose more by not trying, and will always wonder would it have worked.

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  38. Wow, that's awesome! Thanks for this! I knew you could grow new onions from the old roots but I've never tried it with an already sprouted one before. I'm gonna give it a try with an onion that started growing in my fridge o.0 It's worth trying at any rate ^^

    As thanks a golden nugget here: there are some other produces that can be regrown such as garlic, celery, green onions, pineapple, ginger, and potatoes. For the celery and green onions you leave about an 1''-2'' above the root and just replant it. For pineapple it's the crown you need, after scooping out the fruit you need to do a few cuts to expose the root buds; after cutting let it dry for a few days to heal and then plant it in a sunny spot (I've never tried a pineapple personally though, a friend did but it took a couple of years before he got fruit). For ginger soak it overnight, then cut it into pieces with a couple of growth buds on each piece and then plant it with the buds facing up/sideways, to harvest just dig up a piece and cut off what you need then replant it again. (I haven't had to buy ginger or garlic in years :D). For those old forgotten/wrinkly potatoes you can cut them up into approximately 1 inch chunks with a couple of eyes on each piece, let them dry out for a day or two to skin over, then plant them with the eye facing up. ^^

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  39. Hi, what is timeline as far as time of year to star? Thanks

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  40. Thank you!! Planting some today!! Woo hoo! Also, I am mystified as to how people think sprouted food is rotten?!

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  41. This is awesome, food pantry gave us 3 bags of onions and a good chunk of them were starting to sprout, now my daughter doesn't want me to "kill" them. So I might do this with her and freeze the eating part and we can plant the sprouted part!

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  42. Now I have a question, my onion has sprouted with the green growing out the top, but I don't have the roots like what you have pictured, can I still plant it? I did separate the bulbs.

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  43. So excited to try this!! Thanks!

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  44. So this method can produce an onion, but is there a way to clone the plant or do something to produce more onions off the original sprout.

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  45. This is so helpful!! Thank you!

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  46. Any comments on how deep the dirt needs to be? Shallow or deep? I don't want to crowd them, but can they be close together? I have two sprouting yellow onions from the grocery right now and want to give it a go. And can anyone give advice on garlic? I see that each clove should be planted separately, but will grocery store heads give you anything? I've had a few sprout at home. thanks in advance

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  47. Hello,

    What climate do you live in?
    Is there a preferred amount of sun
    ...amount of water?
    ...type/depth of soil?

    Thank you for this post!

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  48. I live in London, England. I have been getting into growing stuff because of this great summer we've been having in the South East of England. I have just planted 3 slightly shooting onions, after reading your website posts. Am I mad?

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  49. I hope you post some follow up photos. I love a happy ending. :)

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  50. OK, if you grow an onion from a sprouted one, what are you gaining? If you only get one onion, then why do it? You had a good onion to begin with.

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  51. I have just dug up 2 onions that i stuck in the ground when they sprouted.I did nothing special to them just stuck them in the ground.I now have lots of lovely red onions.About 6 onions from each sprouted onion i planted.Easy as pie.Will do that again.

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