Great-Grandma Pfeifer Walking Onions
An onion cultivar that grows through the seasons, in every season. Catalogued as top-setting, you harvest the seed bulbs in August, plant them in September for the winter, and in March-June for the fall. A perennial onion that will keep growing green onions - available for harvest even in January if you can get to them through the snow! The bulbs are edible, but tough (use for the taste in soups). It's best to leave the bulbs in the ground and harvest a second growth of greens in early May! See the bottom of this page for pictures.
On this web page you will learn about Walking Onions.
These onions are grown expressly for use as greens. They are known as Egyptian Onions or Walking Onions.

I've got some from my 97 year old neighbor - she tells me that her Pfeifer grand-parents grew these same onions starting around 1850 in Fort Atkinson, WI - she's still using the same seed saved year after year for over 150 years.

The special feature of this onion variety is the growth of seed on top of the leaves (top setting bulbs). The plant keeps growing larger top-setting-seed and the flow of juices keep the leaves green much longer than other varieties of onions. It propagates by letting the top seed fall on the soil, thus little energy is put into developping a large bulb in the ground.

Row planted in 2006 picture taken in May 2007
walking onions top setting bulbs
clump of onion top seed
seed on top of an Egyptian onion leaf
You can harvest the green onions for much longer than other green onion varieties and use them in your summer salads. Just keep a few greens to grow the top seed, harvest the largest top bulbils in August and keep them in a cool dry place. You can replant them right away in September, or keep them for the spring.

The seed is very hardy ... you can drop it on the soil even in very late fall before the first snow fall. Keep some in your garden shed all winter and plant them in the spring and through the summer, so you have a supply of green onions for most of the year.

Or leave a few onions in the ground and let them walk!

NOT REALLY! You don't want to let the plant do that. In the picture above you see a clump of seed grown on top of a leaf that gravitation took down to the soil. You can count about 8 - 10 seeds in this clump. You don't want 10 onions to grow in the same spot. Therefore it is better to harvest the seed. Let it dry out a little and separate.

Space the seed about 2 inches apart in a row.

After harvesting the top bulbils, leave the bulbs in the ground and get a second harvest of green onions.
Egyptian green onions propagated by stooling
Second growth of greens very early in the spring.
Row planted in 2006 picture taken in September 2007
On the left you see the same row of Walking Onions that you have already seen on top of the page (picture taken in May). The green onions form nice size bulbs in the ground; the top set bulbs have been removed and replanted. From mid September I harvest bulbs that are forcing a flush of new greens (definition of propagation by stooling), these can be transplanted, if you wish to change the location.

Notice on the picture above in the middle: the bulb on the right side in the dish has small green growth coming out of the top and large stem to the right. The large stem to the right is the old growth that had the top-set bulbs; it is too hard to eat.

The new growth is delicious, especially in September when nobody has fresh green onions. By keeping the harvested bulbs in water, I preserve the quality of the roots until ready to cook. So, I remove the skin and the hard stem, but eat the white bulb, the fresh greens and the roots. Go find onion roots in my breakfast garbage plate.

These onions are very, very hardy and will keep growing through the winter. Heavy mulching is not necessary! But you will obtain longer white stems on your winter greens if you mulch them with lots of straw.
Well, I forgot to mulch in the winter of 2007 but I am very impressed with the size of the Great-Grandma Pfeifer strain of Egyptian onions. In this picture taken at the end of May you see three rows, of which the first and second are Great-Grandma Pfeifer's while the third row is a different strain obtained from a friend in Racine.

I'm impressed by the size of the top-setting bulbils - a few grew to almost 2" across (see picture below - the square pattern is half an inch) - and the second growth "by stooling" gives me a second harvest of greens. I'm planning to leave a few bulbs of this row through the summer to see if I get a second harvest of top-setting bulbils (to compare the size with the first year growth).

Row planted in September 2007 picture taken in early May 2008
top setting seed bulb
Row planted in September 2007 picture taken in August 2008
Top setting seed bulb harvested in August - background pattern size is half inch
These pictures were taken in early May to compare the green growth from seed planted in the fall vs. green groth from bulbs left in the ground in the summer (propagation by stooling).

In the top picture you can observe how the green bulbs (3) are bunching with a common root base.

The onion greens propagation by stooling, means that you leave the bulb in the ground over the winter. For this variety the outgrown bulbs are not particularly tasty anyway. They are grown for the greens!

When you harvest you will find a little more cleaning of rotten bulb residue. Each bulb may have up to 12 onion greens growing from the common root base.

The top greens have been extracted from the summer bulb. The bottom green is one of the 3 growing out of one seed bulb planted in the fall.

The green growth of the seed bulb is larger in size, while out of the summer bulb I've harvested more greens.

Obviously the summer bulb also has a larger root base - I eat onion roots - but again they are more work to clean. If you have space available in the garden, it's a good idea to leave the bulbs in the ground and get a second green harvest. Plus possibly a second top seed harvest, if you can leave a few bulbs until the end of August.
Share your seed

Once you are satisfied with the quality of your plants and keep saving seeds for several years, the time comes to start sharing seeds.

Become a member of Seed Savers Exchange.

By becoming a member ($35 per year membership fee) you can order seed from 700 plus sources. Unfortunately there are only 35 seed savers in Wisconsin and 33 in Illinois ... but none in Kenosha and Racine Counties.

We need to change that and have more local gardeners listed in Seed Savers Year Books to make seed available to other local gardeners.

This page lists all cultivars that I save - some are available to all (HAS), most are reserved to "listed" SSE members - click here to review the list of cultivars.

Please call Seed Savers, become a "non-listed" member (support this no-profit organization) and eventually join me in offering seed as a listed member. Call (563) 382-5990

Do you have any family and friends that would like to receive our newsletter?

Forward this link; it will take them to the free subscription page.

If you need help subscribing please drop us a note; we can do that for you.


We hope you enjoy receiving our newsletter and will forward it to your friends and family. We appreciate your help in spreading the word about our activity.

Looking forward to meet you at the Kenosha HarborMarket this Saturday, or some day.

Your friend will be under the white tent,



Go to our home page - more recipes - Ask a question