What makes shallots so coveted and sought after?
I believe it’s down to the taste that is so well-balanced it makes shallots a joy to cook with and then savour when it comes to dinnertime.
Shallots have a taste and texture that is practically a halfway house between onions and garlic. They seem to carry the juiciness of onions and then that unique taste of garlics. In the kitchen they are quicker to cook and light fry than onions, plus they are that little bit sweeter.
You may have noticed the price-tag that comes with shallots however down at the supermarket. It’s enough to deter you from picking up shallots so you just pick a bag of onions instead. Such a shame; shallots have a flavour that neither onions nor garlic can trump.
Here’s the solution
Grow your own shallots. From just one bag of sets (pre-planting bulbs) you can get multitudes of ready-to-eat shallots. Plus you’ve no need to worry about gluts; shallots store for the better half of a year at least. Just braid them up like onions and let them hang somewhere cool and dry like a basement.
Before starting just check your soil is 6.0 on the acid-alkaline scale using a Soil Testing Kit. If it proves less than 6.0 apply a dose of lime – a slack handful per square metre/ square yard).
Spring or autumn sets?
Choose whether you wish to raise autumn-planting sets or spring-planting sets. I recommend the former for those lucky gardeners with free-draining yet rich soil, and the latter if you have thick and heavy clay soil or you grow your crops somewhere particularly exposed and wintry.
If you plant in autumn consider having a horticultural fleece to hand. This kills two birds with one stone. Firstly it protects any shoots from a sharp frost in winter and secondly it keeps birds from pecking the shallots out of the soil.
If growing in spring plan to plant your sets before a predicted frost. Believe it or not, this does the sets good as the frost triggers off a ‘waking’ mechanism that starts the dormant sets into growth.
Treat your soil to a sprinkle of pre-planting Onion, Shallot and Garlic Fertiliser (one handful per square metre/square yard) a week before planting.
Space shallot sets 20cm (8in) in the ground in a row and space rows 30cm (12in) apart if you are planting more than one row.
Spread a layer of vegetable compost over the row and rake into the top layer of the soil. Create 3cm (1 ½ in) holes in the soil with a bulb planter or dibber and pop in the sets with the tapered end upwards. Back fill the holes so there is the tapered end just proud of the soil. Label and date your row for your records. Here’s where the fleece comes in handy to keep birds lifting the exposed bulb ends out of the soil.
Never ram sets into the ground using your hands. The basal roots are fragile and delicate and pushing them into the soil can easily break them which affects their growth. Planting holes are all important for those sensitive sets! I learnt this from my first attempt at shallot-growing.
At the beginning of July reduce watering (stop altogether if it’s a rainy summer) so that come harvest time in mid-July your shallots will have formed protective skins and store better.
If you fancy growing shallots next year too don’t grow them in the same soil as last year to avoid the build-up of soil-borne diseases and crop failures.