Winter Solstice - Shallots
18th Dec 1996
The 21st of December will soon be with us which means an end to the bleak dark evenings because from that day on, the days will be lengthening. The 21st of course is the shortest day and traditionally is the date for planting your shallots, but as the ground conditions are often heavy and wet, it's better to wait until early Spring for planting directly outdoors. What I will be doing though is planting my shallots in pots in the greenhouse and later into the cold frame once I see that they are growing away strongly.
I have never had much success with shallots and in my opinion they should be at least 25 points rather than the 18 awarded to them in the RHS Show Handbook, particularly when those points are awarded for the degree of difficulty in growing a perfect specimen. The main problem that most growers seem to have is preventing the harvested bulbs from going double or pregnant is the term often used.
There are usually two classes for shallots, one comes under the heading Shallots Exhibition, which have a maximum of 18 points broken down as follows : Condition 7, Size and Shape 4, Colour 2, Uniformity 5. The other is Shallots Pickling, which has a maximum points value of 12 divided up into : Condition 4, Size and Shape 4, Colour 2, Uniformity 2.
I get success with the Pickling bulbs by planting smaller specimens to start with, usually those that I would have used in the Pickling classes that year. I plant four bulbs in a five inch square pot using Levington M2 and they are then grown in these pots for the whole season. Once the greenhouse starts filling up they will go into the cold frame and apart from keeping an eye out for aphids, they have no more attention until they arrive at the size for harvesting. The pots are then laid on their side and no more water is given, they very quickly dry out and you should be able to get plenty to select from 6 pots.
The larger shallots are planted individually in either 3" pots or Plantpak 24s from which they can be potted up again or you can cut them up individually once they are showing signs of early growth. Some growers cut the bulb in half right through the neck a and down through the base plate. the theory is that they produce a single bulb and therefore less prone to grow out of shape. I have tried this method a couple of times and I have found that a few bulbs can go rotten before they actually grow away, but it"s worth a try.
The other method is remove the bulbs from the Plantpak 24 tray once the green shoots are about an inch or so long. You then, very carefully and with a sharp knife, cut down the outside of the bulb so that you can remove the outer scales exposing each individual plantlet inside the bulb. Now comes the difficult bit, you slice in between each plantlet and through the root plate using a sharp knife with a thin blade making sure that the plant you cut off has some roots with it.
Once you have each plant separated, and this can often vary between three and six, you pot them up individually, again in Plantpak 24s and using a thin split cane and small plant clip to keep them upright until they have developed strong roots. What you will have done in effect is carried out the process of thinning the bulbs out about four months ahead of time. Again the idea is to have one single bulb from the beginning which means that each one has more space and more available nutrients when developing. This should give you much better shaped bulbs and is the way that I intend to grow them this year.