Promising Shallots for Large and Pickling Classes
14th Jun 2001
For the first time in a few years I have some promising looking shallots for both the large classes and for the pickling.
The ones for the large classes are being grown at my friend Jim's garden, two rows were planted at the end of February and were thinned down to three per station during early May. There's nothing that I enjoy more than making my own omelette using these fresh thinnings; absolutely delicious. Another thing that I did, with some of the largest thinnings, was to store them in my polytunnel for possible use as pickling shallots later on.
My father used to do this quite regularly, and although a bit of hit and miss really, he exhibited over the years some fine dishes. When you do the actual thinning down you will notice that the base of each thinning will be misshapen, sort of flatish or even squarish. However if you leave them to one side, my father used to just leave them under his garden hedge next to where they grew, and amazingly they seem to end up perfectly round.
When thinning the clumps clear all the soil from around each cluster, I then leave behind the strongest three shallots and the method of pulling the shallot is to press it downwards and slightly outwards at the same time, this will; snap them off the root plate cleanly.
After tiding up around each cluster, by removing any dead or split skins, the bed is given a feed of Phostrogen which is slightly weighed towards the potash side to help the bulbs to grow nice and firm. I prefer not to feed them with any high nitrogen feed as the show type shallots are poor keepers at the best of times and any soft growth would more harm than good. Indeed this particualr bed where they are growing was part of the potato are for the past five or six years. It had therefore more than it's share of organic matter by way of rotten down straw as well as loads of peat and horse manure ;it was therefore given no fertiliser whatsoever at planting time. Once they have been liquid fed, replace the soil back around the cluster this will help keep the developing bulbs fresh and supple.
I shall be keeping a close eye on them from now on as I don"t want them to end up being misshapen or bulging out on one side or other. The best way is to make sure that the shallots are still producing a new young shoot from the center which indicates to me that the shallot is still growing satisfactorily. The moment you notice that no young shoot is visible, and you can determine this by looking at the length of the previous leaf in relation to the new ones emerging. Ones this stretches longer than expected it means that the bulb has completed it's growing cycle and will soon start off its secondary growth pattern.
Size and Quality
I am convinced that it's at this point that the bulbs get misshapen as we wait just that little bit longer hoping to get some larger specimens. We must remember the old saying that size is only meritorious if accompanied by quality, so with shallots in particular, don't sacrifice quality for the sake of some extra size. In the NVS Judges Guide, Condition is given 6 of the maximum 16 points whilst size is only awarded 2 points. In the RHS Horticultural Show Handbook Condition is 4 points whilst size, form and shape (which are lumped together) is also given 4 points. Condition is therefore paramount at shows where judging is carried out under NVS rules. You must remember that the longer the shallot stays in the ground after it has started into secondary growth, the more misshapen it will be. After harvesting, and as the bulbs are drying out, such bulbs will continue to go out of shape and in the end will be useless for exhibiting.
Once happy that they have achieved their optimum size, which could be anytime from now, the bulbs will be lifted and the roots and tops trimmed off. I will have measured some of the bulbs, purely for interest, but as they will all be lifted anyway the final selection will determine at what size my set will end up at. Some prefer to leave the lifted bulbs as they are, foliage and all, to dry out in the sun on some chicken wire raised above the ground. The reason I trim my foliage off, leaving some two inches or so of neck, is to prevent the dying foliage from working back to the bulb possibly rendering it out of shape.
Once the tops and roots have been trimmed, the excess skins are then removed down to one complete layer. The bulbs are then stored in a tray and left for a couple of weeks to dry out in a greenhouse covered over with some fleece to protect them from the direct rays of the sun.
My main source of pickling shallots are grown in some 5 inch shallow square pots filled with Levington M2 and the smallest bulbs, often last years picklers, were planted during early January and kept in a warm house until they were moved to a cold frame during early February. Four shallots were planted per pot and these are then just given water throughout the season with no feed whatsoever. The idea is to harvest bulbs that will pass through the current NVS judging ring of 24 mm. When the bulbs are approaching this size the pots are tilted over on their side to prevent any water getting at them and duly harvested in the same way as the larger ones, don't forget that under RHS rules the pickling shallot size must not exceed 30 mm.