Shallots are a close relative of onions, spring onions and garlic. The shallot is quite an exceptional vegetable, renowned for its more delicate flavour than an onion which makes it a firm favourite for anyone enjoying fresh, raw pungency in their cooking. In ancient Persia, records point to it being part of religious rites and sacred to key gods.
The French have taken ownership of the shallot even though it originated in south-east Asia before being ‘discovered’ by the ancient Greeks who spread it throughout the Mediterranean. The French started using it in earnest from the late 11th Century and it has been developed and cultivated ever since. Many of the ancient varieties are found in Anjou, the Loire and Brittany. In fact a ‘Coq Au Vin’ needs shallot to lift it out of the realms of a chicken broth. They also store extremely well which makes them ideal for that dry space in the shed.
Nutritionally, shallots like onions are packed full of vitamins and minerals. A wonderful combination of polyphenols, flavonols, even anthocyanins in the skin are all healthy components to be made full use of. It also contains plenty of manganese which we know from studies with birch water, in sufficient quantities is needed for good immune health. Like garlic too, it is touted for good circulation and heart health, energy, lowering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure or hypertension. Really wouldn’t be without them in the garden and yes they are straightforward to grow !
Hardy, easy to grow and low maintenance. We grow them either in allotted rows or between vegetables that have not fully occupied their space like cabbage and broccoli. As they mature earlier than onions, they can be sown earlier although it makes little difference. We grow Autumn onions and shallots at the same time and with little impact on overall size.
Start looking for seed i.e. small bulbs from late August onwards. Taylors amongst other specialist suppliers will always have a ready selection. The actual seed is intended for commercial growers with large mechanical sowing systems so its not really suited to the garden. A number of varieties are actually either planted in autumn or spring and these need to be checked for their planting times. Ideally, avoiding frost is best however there are a number of varieties which we grow that actually benefit from some short sharp cold conditions. Any shallots planted in autumn are usually harvested earlier and are certainly bigger in size with a better yield. However, as with garlic, flavour also matters, and some of the smaller shallots have superb taste and pungency as a result of their slightly more diminutive size.
If you buy a set, these can be broken into 6 to 8 small bulbs for planting. We even take some of our older plants, brake them up again and plant them – there isn’t a change in size when fully matured and its cheaper at times.
Good well-drained soil which sees regular sun. Avoid excessive shade as with overhanging trees but they do benefit from shelter. Some growers have clay soil which is broken up with lime and liberal doses of compost to improve soil conditions. To improve fertility of any soil, add plenty of composted grass and leaves a few weeks beforehand so that nitrogen is present in the soil. I avoid adding too much however because of the dreaded onion rust which often appears in Summer because growth has been exceptionally lush. Having said that, some blood and bone meal doesn’t come amiss.
Plant bulbs in rows with the tip just pointing above the soil surface. Use a dibber. I space between 15cm and 18cm apart with 30cm between rows.
Birds and insects are a nuisance, so an open weave cloche is ideal. Birds tend to pull the shallots out and a cat doing its usual will often redistribute many of the bulbs. Replant !
During Growth And Aftercare
Keep watered as prolonged dry periods produce reduced amounts. Hoe carefully to remove competing weeds.
Remove flowers to prevent bolting.
Harvest when the leaves have started drying and turning yellow-brown. I prefer to let the leaves turn brown fully if the weather during the summer is suitable. You can start harvesting the earliest varieties from June onwards.
When the soil is slightly dry, lift carefully with a fork and place on the side to continue their drying in sun for a couple of days.
Store in a cool dry place as with onions. They last ages unless you guzzle them.
cv. ‘Camelot’. A striking variety which is red skinned. Stores very well.
cv. ‘Golden Gourmet’. Medium sized round bulbs from sets.
cv. ‘Matador’. F1 Reddish-brown bulbs with a mild flavour which come from seed. High yields with a good dry matter content. Excellent for roasting.
cv. ‘Pesandor’. Produces long slender bulbs similar to a banana shallot with a pinkish tinge throughout the flesh. Great for slicing, salads and layering.
cv. ‘Pikant’. Sharp flavoured and high yielding. Bolt resistant.