Iitois. A Rare Gem
1699 marks the introduction of a most prized onion, the Iitois. 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 weary about their condition. Being the hopeful farmer I am, I do what farmers do, plant. Five precious (all shriveled an meek) bulbs was all it took.
My humble beginnings ignited a flame of Iitois into hundreds of thousands. Iitois 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 the Phoenix).
The taste harbors something between a green onion and a shallot . Upon harvest they pose a beautiful bronze skin. Not to hasty though. Before eating that last bite, plant the last bulb back in the ground. Repeat this process for an endless supply.
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.