Expert Tips for Planting Shallots and Growing Shallots

Growing Shallots

planting shallots

There are at least half a dozen sources of the onion flavour and I have selected the shallot because it is the least trouble to grow and is very productive. It suffers from the fewest pests and diseases, stores well, can be used green to pep up salads and can also be pickled. Shallots will grow almost anywhere on any soil and is perhaps the least wasteful of any of the onion family – so, take it from me, growing shallots couldn’t be easier.

Growing shallots, or more correctly ‘eschalots’, they have to be planted early, indeed they are one of the earliest crops to be planted and, it has long been a custom to plant on the shortest day and harvest on the longest day. This is not always possible due to weather conditions, but even in difficult districts, or where they are required for exhibition, they may be started early in 3 inch peat pots with no more protection than that offered by a cold frame.  Although they are natives of Palestine, no heat is required as they are perfectly hardy and remain unharmed even if frozen solid.

When weather conditions are suitable and the tops have been exposed and are not too tender, they may be planted out with the pot sunk below ground level. John Innes No. l potting compost or something similar is perfectly satisfactory for planting and is best sifted through a ½ inch riddle, no roughage in the bottom of the pot being required.

Shallots are, as a rule, more popular in country districts than in urban areas. They are always represented on the show bench and are often the biggest entry. In some northern districts special prizes are offered.

Shallots of late years have been divided into two classes: large and  small. Some schedules stipulate a diameter of l inch for the small ones with no limit for the larger Russian types. The popularity of the green or white versus the red varies from district to district. Some schedules legislate against seedlings, but the only objection to seedlings is that they have to be very carefully selected each season because of their tendency to run to flower. However, the real enthusiast will continue to grow from seed and select and re-select until he has produced a worthwhile strain.

Commercially, there is not a great deal of choice, but if you shop around you may come across a variety Hative de Niort. This variety gives few offsets to a clove but they are perfectly shaped without the annoying flat side of our English varieties. The Jersey shallot is as large as a small onion with grey-green foliage and a thin red skin but is not such a good keeper. For producing the large varieties rich fertile soil is desirable and extra feeding can be given during the growing season, but for the small pickling onions a dryer, poorer and harder soil produces better and more bulbs of the pickling type with a much stronger flavour.

Perhaps their popularity in the country districts stemmed from the fact that no outdoor worker went to work without a few shallots in his ‘frail’ basket to eat with his bread and cheese.

Planting Shallots

Like onions, when planting shallots, they will require a firm soil and the bed should be trodden several times after breaking it down and raking it. This often leads to trouble later on if bulbs have been pushed into the soil. If they are pushed with too much force the top part of the bulb may be bruised and damaged. There is a risk, too, of damaging the basal plate on a stone. These two things can have the effect of the bulb producing a large number of very small offsets in the resultant cloves. In extreme cases the bulb may rot after first trying to sprout.

Perhaps the most serious effect is that, as the roots form, they push against the hard pan caused by pressing in the bulb and rise out of the soil. There they are easily tipped over by birds, especially sparrows looking for new fresh green for their young. Worms, too, can tip over bulbs, so it pays to remove loose dead scales.

Irreparable harm can be done by pressing back sprouted bulbs as this will break off succulent roots. As the bulbs emit roots from a basal plate and are monocotyledons, these damaged roots cannot produce secondary growths and new roots must be formed from the basal plate itself. The damaged roots can rot and this can spread back up into the plate and inhibit the production of new roots. The answer to this is always to plant with a trowel or pointed stick.  Shallots should be planted so that the shoulders are just covered. Planting shallots is impossible to do on too firm a soil with the result that they are often planted too shallowly to start with.

The distance between rows and bulbs will depend on whether they are being grown for exhibition or for culinary use. Make no mistake  about it, they are excellent for use in the kitchen, being stronger in flavour and much more handy for the housewife. Nine inches between bulbs is not too much for exhibition with l2 to l5 inches between the rows. However, 6 inches between bulbs and 12 inches between rows is sufficient for the smaller varieties.

Growing Shallots

Shallots are singularly free from pests and diseases but in their early stages the tops may be attacked by greenfly. In some districts the keel slug and also millipedes may attack the base of the bulbs. Because they are planted so early there is a great risk that the tops may be affected by cold, and, particularly, drying east winds. This shows itself in the whitening of the top inch or so of the leaves.

growing shallots All onion types are short of leaf area and any damage to the foliage is a serious matter as this reduces the food conversion surface. In country districts, branches of hazel or other twiggy growths used to be spread over the shallot bed and a windbreak of holly or spruce used on the windward side especially in the eastern counties where the wind is a serious problem. Shallots can suffer from other onion diseases but when well grown with not too much nitrogen in the soil they are seldom affected.

As the shallot grows and develops a keen exhibitor will mark and select those which produce fewer, but better-shaped bulbs in the cloves while those that make a great number are discarded. This characteristic is inherent in the bulb and by selection a near perfect strain can be developed. This is a far more satisfactory method than selecting seed after the crop has been harvested.

Harvesting Shallots

This is a simple job. Shallots mature, in a good ripening year, in late July or early August and they may be allowed to remain on the soil until the roots virtually die off. This is better than artificially breaking the roots by easing them with a fork. On heavy soils it may be necessary to remove a little soil from the base of the bulb to ensure complete ripening. This should be done with the finger rather than with any hard tool.

Lay the cloves unbroken on a sack on a hard dry surface or on fine mesh wire netting until they are dry, putting them under cover at night. Do not allow them to become wet again. I prefer to lay them under a shelter of some kind with the sides open, as during the summer there is a risk of heavy thunder showers. Moisture, if trapped under the top layers of ripened skin, can produce a very moist steamy atmosphere in which a black fungus flourishes.

Finish off the ripening process by lightly rubbing off dead roots and scales but do not overdo this. Finally store in nets in an airy place.

Shallots as Scallions

In addition to the main bed of shallots I always put in a couple of rows of bulbs planted about 4 inches apart. These are  reserved for early use as spring onions or scallions, every other bulb being pulled. These make excellent fillings mixed with egg for sandwiches and are crisp and succulent additions to salads. Growing shallots as scallions is very easy – they are a crop that can be grown virtually anywhere; in troughs or containers on balconies, in small gardens, even amongst the roses.

It is one crop that can be grown under virtually any soil conditions in the tiniest of gardens and there is not the slightest excuse for not having a supply for salads. With a little more room you can also grow bulbs for pickling and for cooking.

13. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Root Vegetables | Tags: | Comments Off on Expert Tips for Planting Shallots and Growing Shallots


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