Shallots look like smaller onions when fully grown, but they are much more aromatic and therefore highly prized by chefs. They proliferate and produce clusters of 7-9 bulbs, so they take up more space in the garden despite their size. They also need a hot spot to thrive, but they are well worth growing because they store for much longer than onions do - up to a nine months.
Shallots take a full 26 weeks to mature and were traditionally sown on the shortest day (Dec 21st) and harvested on the longest (June 21st). However March sowings can generally be harvested by late August.
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The two different types of shallot
The French Grey or Griselle (derived from Allium oschaninii) has long pear-shaped bulbs with grey skin covering purple-tinted flesh. These do not store as well as rounder shallots and normally need using by the end of December.
A.ascalonicum is rounder in shape with a copper/russet skin and white flesh - although varieties vary when it comes to skin and flesh.
Source good quality, plump sets that feel firm to the touch - without any mould. They do tend to be more expensive than onions - but one set well grown should increase sevenfold.
- Choose a sunny position and plant 9 inches (22 cm) apart in rows 9 inches (22 cm) apart.
- Leave the upper third of the bulb showing because shallots are more prone to rotting in damp soil.
- Shallots grow better and ripen better in sunnier summers and, although they are not quite as hardy as onions, they often store for longer.
- There are red and yellow varieties and (just as in onions) the yellow ones are the easiest to grow and also store for longer.
- The key with getting good shallots is watering in the early stages and also putting them on fertile ground.
- Lift them away from the ground with a fork in August to help the drying out process, gently teasing the clusters of bulbs apart.
Best shallot varieties to grow
‘Golden Gourmet’ AGM
The heaviest cropping golden ball-shaped shallot - producing substantial bulbs. Start with this, if a novice.
The best red, with lots of layers of brown-red skin. Good flavour and very rounded shape. A Dutch variety.
A long slender ‘Jersey long’ shallot with golden skin, almost pear-shaped, with a strong flavour.
Copper-coloured long shallot, widely grown commercially in Brittany in France, with pink-tinted flesh and good flavour.
Read our guide to growing onions
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