I'itois. A Rare Gem (pronouced ee-ee-toy)
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The year 1699 marks the introduction of a most prized onion, the I'itoi. Spaniards
introduced the i'itoi onion to the present day Tohono O-Odham . This may have
been named after their deity I-itoi which resides at the top of the Babuquivari
Peak, a sacred mountain of the O-Odham people, near Ajo.
While the i'itoi is not a true native of the southwest, it has existed, endured and
thrived here in less than ideal conditions for more than 300 years. If I could only
speak of two vegetables in the whole world it would be tepary beans (another
story for another day) and the i'itoi onion.
I was given my first i'itoi onions by a staff member of the county extension service
in 1993 who in turn received them from Native Seed Search in Tucson. Tucked
away in a drawer, naturally the staff member was leery about their condition.
Being the hopeful farmer I am, I do what farmers do; plant. Five precious (all
shriveled and meek) bulbs was all it took.
My humble beginnings ignited a flame of i'itois into hundreds of thousands. I'itois
are gentle giants that can multiply and almost tend to themselves. A single bulb
can turn into over 100 at the end of the season (about June in Phoenix).
The taste harbors something between a green onion and a shallot. Upon harvest
they pose a beautiful bronze skin. Not too hasty though. Before eating that last
bite, plant the last bulb back in the ground. Repeat this process for an endless
Re-growth begins again in July and prosper for about 10-11 months annually. As a
hardy onion, they seem to require about a third less water than most, since they
seldom get water more than twice a month here on the farm, my recommendations are: plant 12 inches apart about 2 inches deep.
When they are young (green onions) they should be dug up with a spade or garden
fork and not pulled like regular onions. Fibrous roots seep into the ground about
six inches, which is why many end up pulling off the tops and leaving the bulbs
intact in the earth.
The I'itoi goes through a cycle as it develops and multiplies under and above
ground. One onion becomes two, two becomes four and so on multiplying like
rabbits. While the I'itoi is difficult to harvest during it’s green stage, as the tops
start to dry later in the season the fibrous roots decay and the earth gladly
surrenders them with ease.
This attention grabbing onion has been scouted out by people across the states.
We have shipped them from coast to coast. We gladly appreciate farmers/gardeners sharing and planting them for communities in their neighborhood.
If you would like bulbs for planting, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for details.