How to grow Shallots
Shallots Growing Guide
Shallots are often overlooked in favour of their popular larger cousin, the onion, but there are many reasons why kitchen gardeners should be growing these delicious alliums instead. To start with, they offer a subtler, more refined flavour and are quicker to reach maturity.
Shallots thrive on the same sunny, well-drained sites as onions but can be planted much earlier in the year. Their dainty appearance hides a surprisingly hardy character, and once they are in the ground you’ll need to do very little. Like onions, most shallots are started off from miniature bulbs called sets. Rather than swelling to form one large bulb, however, each shallot set will divide up to form six to eight of a similar size. These reliable, delicious crops can be enjoyed from summer onwards and will store for an incredible length of time; it isn’t unusual for certain cultivars such as ‘Pikant’ or ‘Ouddorpse Bruine’ to remain sound for up to a year.
Growing Shallots month-by-month
Plant an early crop of shallots into individual 7cm pots of multipurpose compost under cover. Keep these carefully watered as they put down roots.
Begin planting outdoor shallot sets into prepared ground. Add a dressing of general-purpose fertiliser before you begin.
In most parts of the country, the best time to plant shallots is the beginning of March. Cover the sets so only the top quarter of each one pokes up through the ground.
Finish planting sets by early April. Protect the young shoots from hungry animals using netting or fleece until they are large enough not to be troubled by these creatures.
Keep shallot beds weed-free so the clumps can begin to form unfettered. Do this by hand if possible to avoid damaging the roots of your crop with a hoe blade.
Water shallots in very dry weather as they put on their final growth spurt during the long days of midsummer.
Tease away soil from the base of each clump to help the bulbs ripen. Lift them as soon as the foliage has turned completely yellow.
Dry off lifted clumps in an airy place. This 'curing' process is essential if they are to store successfully for a number of months.
This should be the latest that your shallots will be ready. Store the bulbs in nets or tights, or pickle the smaller ones in vinegar for enjoying with salads and sandwiches.
Begin preparing the ground for next year's crop. Dig it over thoroughly and, if necessary, apply plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure to improve drainage.
Finish preparing the soil and, if your plot has a mild micro-climate, plant some autumn shallot sets for a big, flavoursome crop to harvest during the following summer.
If you haven't decided what to grow, now is a good time to pick your shallot varieties as you compile your seed order for the next year.
Caring for your Shallots plants + problems
Once your shallots have taken root and are successfully sprouted, there’s very little to do other than wait for a harvest. You can help the process along by weeding between the forming clumps of bulbs. Only use a hoe if you can be sure that you won’t damage the shallow roots; otherwise remove unwanted plants by hand. Shallots are relatively compact and their space-saving nature means weeding shouldn’t take a huge amount of time. You will need to water only in the very hottest weather.
Bolting – or premature running to seed – shouldn’t be a problem for the quick-growing plants unless particularly hot weather occurs. If you spot elongated flowering stems, cut them out so the crop isn’t compromised – if they are left to grow on, the plants will put their energy into reproduction instead of producing tasty veg. Pick a bolt-resistant variety if you want to be sure of avoiding the issue.
Towards the end of June or early July you can help the clumps of shallots mature by gently teasing back the soil from the bulbs. This will expose them to the sun and encourage ripening. If you don’t want to risk damaging the roots, leave the soil in place – you’ll still have a good harvest, though it may take a little longer.
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How to harvest Shallots
Shallots are ready for lifting when the foliage has turned yellow and is beginning to wither. This will be any time from July to late August. To harvest your crop, angle a border fork beneath each clump and shake the bulbs free of the soil. If the weather is warm and rainfree, leave the shallots to dry on the ground; otherwise place them on raised racks in a wellventilated, warm spot such as a greenhouse.
After a few days, they should have dried off enough to flake away excess mud and loose skins. At this stage, cut away the now completely withered foliage and store the shallots. Separate them into individual bulbs or leave them as clumps that can be broken up when necessary.
Only keep healthy shallots that are clean and dry. Store them in an open net or an old pair of tights and hang them in a cool, dry place. They can remain like this until the following spring and the longest keepers will last right up until the next crop is ready for lifting. Alternatively, pickle small shallot bulbs in vinegar for a crunchy addition to salads.