Successfully Growing Exhibition Shallots
29th Mar 2001
Last week I mentioned that growing and showing long carrots has given me more success over the years than any other vegetable. If on the other hand I had to chose the vegetable that I have had the least success with it would have to be the large shallots. I have only shown them once at the highest level and I think I got a third with them at the Welsh Championships some years ago. The main reason for my failure probably was the fact that I never really put enough effort into them as well as not having an ideal position to grow them at home.
This year they will be grown at my friend Jims garden and they were planted out two weeks ago after a couple of nice sunny days. The variety is Aristocrat which I supply through my seed catalogue and seems to do really well for my customers. The position of the bed at Jims is right next to a concrete path so I was able to work the soil to a fine tilth without having to tread on it at all. The soil in this particular garden is in great condition now having grown potatoes there over the years using bales of straw and bags upon bags of peat based compost.
Prior to planting the whole area had been dug over during the early part of the year so it was subjected to the period of hard frost that we had during late February and very early in March. It was lightly forked over to depth of four inches or so and then raked level having first added some four ounces of Chempak BTD (Base Top Dressing) to the square metre. They were in four inch pots and had been in my cold frame for a few weeks to harden off whilst I was waiting for the right opportunity to get on to the land.
The plot at Jims is fairly narrow and I was able to get my forty shallots into two rows with approximately nine inches between each bulb and twelve inches between the row and planted in a domino or staggered style. They were planted with each bulb about half way into the soil and as they grow I shall clear all around each bulb to ensure that they can develop without any sharp stone or hard lumps creating mis shapen bulbs.
Once they are seen to be growing away I intend to give them one liquid feed of Chempak N°2 which is fairly high in Nitrogen to give them a boost just as the soil will be really warming up. Each clump will of course be thinned down and my father, who grew some excellent shallots in his time, generally left three shallots in each clump. It was then that I really enjoyed the thinings as I used to make some tasty shallot omelettes with them.
Thin them out when the outer skin starts to burst apart and the trick is to snap them off the root plate without disturbing those that are going to be left in the ground to grow on. Carefully remove the dead tissue and flesh from around the bulb and select the weakest ones to be removed. Remove them by pressing them outwards from the bulb whilst at the same time exerting a downward pressure until it snaps cleanly away. Throughout June I intend to keep a close watch on them to make sure that they are still producing a young leaf from the centre of each bulb. I am still convinced that the main reason for shallots being misshapen or bulging out when exhibiting them is because they have been left in the bed for too long. Of course we all want the bulbs as big as we can get them so there is a tendency to leave them to grow on even though the bulb has stopped producing any more leaves and has gone into secondary growth.
Points for Large Exhibition Shallots
Large exhibition shallots are awarded 18 points in both the RHS Horticultural Show Handbook and in the National Vegetable Society Judges Guide, there is however a big difference in the way that the points have been split up in both books. In the RHS book the points are as follows : Condition 7 points, Size, form and shape 4 points, Colour 2 points, Uniformity 5.
In the NVS book they are : Condition 6 points, Uniformity 3 points, Shape 3 points, Size 3 points, Colour 3 points. The differences are that the RHS have awarded one point more than the NVS for Condition, whilst the NVS have split the Shape and Size giving them a total of 6points whilst the RHS only give those merits a total of 4 points. Uniformity is also considered to be more important under RHS rules having a maximum of 5 points and only 3 points by the NVS.
My pickling shallots are still in their pots ands they will be grown on to maturity in these as they only need to be small. Under current NVS rules each pickling shallot should pass through a 24 mm ring whilst under RHS rules they are larger bulbs and must pass through a 30mm ring. These are very important points to remember as last year a number of exhibits were given the dreaded NAS card (not according to schedule) as some exhibitors staged 30mm shallots in classes judged under NVS rules.
Points for Pickling Shallots
Points for Pickling are also very different between RHS and NVS and are follows : RHS, Condition 4 points, Size, form and shape 4 points, Colour 3 points, Uniformity 4 points a total of 15 points. Under NVS rules they are: Condition 6 points, Uniformity 4 points, Shape 2 points, Size 2 points, Colour 2 points, a total of 16 points.