Picture of Medwyn Williams

Medwyn Williams

Hello. I'm Medwyn Williams – eleven times Gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, Past Chairman of the Royal Horticultural Society Fruit Vegetable and Herb Committee and President of the National Vegetable Society.



I have said many times that shallots is not my best vegetable, not by a long shot, I just can’t seem to grow them well enough for competitive shows. I do however manage to get enough of them to make a couple of dishes for my displays. The wet, cold Spring and Summer we had last year put paid to many of my shallots, the main reason being I just wasn’t able to get them out in time and when they were eventually planted out they took a long while to establish themselves.

This year we tried an experiment by growing them in strong, long, black plastic troughs or containers that I believe are widely used by the drug growers. They must be over 4 feet 4 inches in length with the channel 6 inches wide and only 3.5 inches deep and they seem to have a facility for automatic watering as well. These, along with a large amount of pots and lights were confiscated by the police and given to a small gardening charity.  Lucky for me I gave a talk to this particular charity and they very kindly gave me some as they didn’t think they would be of any use to them.

It’s a shame that the police, if they are not allowed to sell them, can’t give them to the NVS, after all we are a charity and I’m sure we could find a way of sharing them out to members, provided of course they grow legally in them!

These containers were filled with a mixture of M3 from the land as well as soil, a 50/50 mix with the added Osmocote Exact Standard with an NPK of 15:9:12 – (Item 0026) The shallots were planted initially in 3 inch pots and eventually transplanted into the troughs 7 were spaced out in each one. They have certainly grown exceptionally well from such a shallow container. The containers were all left outdoors on a bench along the side of my polytunnel and they were just watered as and when required, nothing special. These are certainly in full sun all day and as John Branham told John Ellis in my earlier Blog, they do like the sunshine not the shade.

The purpose of these are to be used as stock plants and will be available, barring any disasters, from my catalogue in the Autumn. They have not been thinned out and left to their own devices as I don’t want them too large for selling on.  Some are clumps of seven whilst others are only four and it’s noticeable that the ones with four are really good and could well make it on to my display. Next year I will do the same again but keep about 6 containers for show purposes and thin out the clumps to three on each one.

Since the beginning of June they have been fed weekly with our Peters Professional Liquid feed with a high Potash ratio of 9:9:36. (Item 0031) This is supplied by Everris who make the composts and it’s undoubtedly the finest feeds on the market. We are the only ones marketing this as we have had permission from Everris to re package them. I have used this extensively this year, particularly when plants are grown in containers and maturing and when the slow release element of the base fertiliser is drawing to a close.

Shallots in narrow growing trays showing 7 shallots in a clump
Shallots in narrow growing trays showing 7 shallots in a clump
Shallots in narrow growing trays on a bench
Shallots in narrow growing trays on a bench


Growing Parsnips

25th July 2007 I am often asked what is the best method of growing both long carrots and parsnips for the show

Read More »

20 thoughts on “Shallots

  1. Dave reckons Aristocrat and Hative de Niort are probably one and the same. He’s currently recovering from an operation John so with a bit of luck he won’t make it up to his allotment and they’ll all end up going double on him! :o)

    Have just started harvesting my shallots as and when they get to 44mm diameter using a digital gauge, which is probably a tad on the small size for top level competition but I’d rather have a smaller uniform set than hang on another week hoping for larger ones that ultimately go ‘double’. These will continue to grow during ripening and I find may even nudge close 50mm which I’ll be happy with this year. They are some way behind last year’s bulbs which I had already lifted at 48mm in torrential rain and unfortunately they pretty much all rotted in store. Shallots can be real heart breakers can’t they Medwyn? This year I shall be following Jim Pearson’s tip of submerging them in a bucket of water with a tea spoon of Jeyes Fluid and Rovral, which he says cuts down on losses through storage rots. He doesn’t recommend doing this with your kitchen bound shallots however!

  2. Heart breakers indeed! My ‘big’ shallots and by that I mean just above picklers virtually all rotted last winter and I had just seven left out of at least a hundred. What was interesting is that the rot rate on my picklers was maybe only 50% and I even gave some away to Marcus and three others. Now I will be gutted if Marcus beats me with them at Bucks! I am toying with the idea of putting the heater on tickover underneath the mesh grid they are sitting on, just to see if that helps.

  3. I’m not convinced leaving them in the greenhouse is the best way to ripen them John, although Dave Thornton insists this is how he does it and I’ve actually witnessed it at his garden myself. I got my first one up earlier this week, popped it in a tray on some polystyrene (a la Thornton)and covered it with some thin polystyrene sheet to keep direct sunlight off. The result is that it’s ‘cooked’ in the intense sunshine of recent days and seriously shrivelled, rendering it useless for showing. I have since harvested several more but I am keeping a very close watch on the weather forecast to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    Interestingly, the picklers are being treated in exactly the same way and yet these are absolutely fine so far (less water content?). I get these up at 27mm diameter and it’s surprising how much they also swell during ripening. Hopefully they’ll be bang on 30mm come showtime.

  4. I now have about 40 of yours John and counting, which were harvested at 26mm and look pretty good. Roll on Bucks Show 🙂 🙂 :-).

    Unfortunately 3/4 of my bigger shallots rotted in the ground after planting out. They were started in 3in pots as usual and had good top growth and root growth, but after planting the cold just went on and on and i think this was the problem on an exposed allotment. What i have left will be lifted and saved for seed any day now.

  5. When did you plant out Marcus?

  6. I started them at the end of December Simon and planted out beginning of March and then it was freezing cold for ages.

  7. Try planting them mid to late Jan Marcus. I find they just sit there doing nowt for weeks even then and after initial watering don’t touch them again til green shoots show….and then sparingly. These are in 4″ square pots in the greenhouse. As far as I can tell and see this is how Mr T grows his too.

    Scraping the root plate and dipping in Rovral before potting up should help too.

  8. ….and we don’t plant out til mid April or so. But then you are near the Equator of course!

  9. Thanks Simon, i’d decided to start them later next year.

  10. Yes, me too, maybe first or second week of February.

  11. Good chaps. But if it doesn’t work out better blame Thornton not me!

  12. Oh definitely Simon, its Thorntons fault or failing that Medwyns. Kelsae starting to go to seed, thats my fault for moving them from conservatory to cold greenhosue too soon I reckon, another lesson learned the hard way.

  13. please can someone tell me how to ripen my exhibition shallots i have had them sitting in greenhouse on some silver sand they have been rubbed all over with zinc starch talc from medwyns but every so often the skins split, causing my to have to strip the whole skin down then after wait 2 weeks for em to get to ripe stage again ,this always seems to happen just before a show and i have to miss the show because of it.are they best ripened in a cupboard in a shed where its probably cooler, they are good shallots and i think i could win most shows with them

    1. Apologies for the delay in replying, August September are bad months for me and I’m hardly home any weekend. The shallots are fine in the glasshouse initially to dry out, but once the foliage is crisp you can dry them further in a very dry shed or garage. The constant heat of the sun through the glass, particularly the weather we had during July would certainly have caused the skin to split. Any comments Simon, perhaps Dave T might have passed on the Gen to you!

  14. Andrew

    Personally I would only have them in the greenhouse for a few days, and even then covered over with some polystyrene sheet or similar. I’m fairly sure Dave T gets them in his garage to complete the ripening after a few days in the greenhouse. As Medwyn says the weather we had in July would absolutely cook them. In the past i’ve left them too long and they been rendered useless.

    I’d be interested to hear what others do but I don’t remove any skins, not even the loose stuff until a week or two before my first show. Then I just rub off all loose skins and any that have split and the first intact skin is usually a lovely nut brown. Having said that i’ve got a few this year that are still a bit green so will be left for later shows.

    Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that but me and Dave have yet another wager ongoing this season and the git only tells me so much!

  15. Hi Medwyn, relief on the pickling shallot front, managed to get a red card at Bucks county and relegate Marcus into second spot, still I did save the best ones for myself. As usual they are rotting in store, I have just bought a decent shed and for next year am thinking of setting up a decent sized fan so that there is a constant airflow over them next season.

  16. John

    The Rovral and Jeyes fluid tip worked for me this season. Happy to report i’ve lost very few in store.

  17. Thanks Simon, will have a ‘shallot’ chat at Harrogate. Looking forward to seeing the best veg of the year. I have learnt so much by chatting to exhibitors on the first morning of a show, especially when they have won a red card.

  18. There was a dodgy shallot judge at Bucks County this year… 🙂

  19. Marcus, I could not agree more, how did he conclude that your shallots were good enough for second? On a more serious note, it was good to see the number of entries increasing significantly over previous years, I was one of the last to set up and space on the bench was at a premium.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *