Growing Your Own Vegetables - Shallots
25th Jan 2003
Traditionally, Shallots (Allium ascolonium) were always planted on the shortest day, the 21st December and harvested on the longest day, the 21st June. Conditions however are rarely suitable for planting directly outside during late December it's therefore better to plant the first batch indoors. You can plant shallots right through to April, indeed it"s often better to plant a few at a time in order to give yourself plenty of green salading material over an extended season. They are frost hardy and can therefore be planted up in a polytunnel or in a cold greenhouse. If you do have some fleece on hand, place it over the bulbs, it will certainly help to get them established quicker.
If you have soil in the greenhouse border then fork it over to a depth of four inches or so and incorporate some Gromore into it. Rake level and simply push the bulbs into the soil to half their length and allow as little as six inches between each bulb. They will very quickly root and start throwing their tops within a few weeks, at this time you can actually make use of them by cutting away the tops with a pair of scissors. The bulbs left in the ground will continue to grow and as the bulbs split, into anything between 5 and ten new bulbs depending on the variety, they can be removed from the cluster as and when required.
Pots and Compost
Rather than waiting for the outside soil to dry out sufficiently for planting directly, I prefer to plant the bulbs in three inch pots, one per pot, using some Levington Multi Purpose Compost. When the tops are about two inches in length you can rest assured that the pot will be full of roots and at this point you can plant them outside.
If you fancy supporting your local show this Summer where there usually classes for shallots, then it's better to grow the types that are better suited for this and more likely to catch the judges eye. Aristocrat and Hative de Niort are two French varieties that have been around for many years, they are lovely pear shaped bulbs that harvest to a deep brown colour. Another new variety that is certainly going to be very popular is the new French bred Jermor, it possesses copper coloured skins and is bred in Brittany in the heart of France's shallot growing region. With the show in mind, it's better to thin out the clusters leaving just three on each parent bulb, these will grow larger and be more evenly shaped.
There are more varieties of shallots available now than ever with the old Dutch Red and White being still around but fast being superseded by more modern types. A popular variety is Pikant, a superb shallot that produces high yields of attractive reddish brown bulbs of excellent taste. Pikant is very resistant to bolting (running to seed) and therefore one of the best for early planting. Some shallots are notorious keepers, many of them rotting away overwinter but Pikant, having a high dry matter content stores extremely well after harvest. Others worth growing are Golden Gourmet, Mikor and Sante. With the latter, plant the bulbs in mid April, sowing before this date may result in the bulbs bolting, these can then be harvested during August.
Onions from Seed
If you had some good shaped onions last year, and they have kept well you can very easily produce your own seed. Kelsae is a particularly nice shaped onion with a very mild flavour that will produce seed true to type as it is a non hybrid variety. Don't be tempted to plant up bulbs that were grown from an F1 hybrid as the resulting seed will be a Heinz 57. Sit the bulb on top of some Levington Multi Purpose compost in a 7 inch pot and place it in a warm greenhouse. It will eventually throw out new roots from around the existing root plate and during late April to May, the bulb will throw up seed heads, these will eventually flower and produce seed that can be harvested during late August to September.