Growing shallots

by Lila Das Gupta

When I first started growing shallots I did so on the advice of Sam, on our allotment [...] He told me to plant shallots on the shortest day and harvest them on the longest.

ShallotsWhen I first started growing shallots I did so on the advice of Sam, on our allotment (aged 90 he was still tending his plot twice a day). He told me to plant shallots on the shortest day and harvest them on the longest. I'm a bit more haphazard in my gardening habits, so you'll rarely find me on the plot on 21 December.

There's still plenty of time to order and plant shallots or find them in garden centres - I've got away with planting them in at the end of April and still had a good crop. But it you want to get particular varieties you have to be quick off the mark. 'Hative de Niort' is a French variety commonly used for exhibition. It's round with a pointy top and, when grown by one of the three gentlemen who usually win at our local horticultural show, perfect looking. I've grown it a couple of times to see if I could come even close to such exacting standards. The results tasted delicious, but sadly, were too scruffy to mingle with such pedigree shallots.

One thing I did notice about 'Hative de Niort' is that the shallots don't keep as well as other varieties - after a few months they begin to sprout again. A few years ago I grew six different varieties to test them for size, flavour and keeping qualities. They were 'Golden Gourmet', 'Pikant', 'Hative de Niort', 'Jermor', 'Red Sun' (as the name suggests, a lovely colour to chop and add raw to salsa and salads) and 'Yellow Moon'.

Apart from 'Hative de Niort', they all had excellent keeping qualities, but my favourite shallot in looks and flavour is 'Jermor'. This is also a French variety but unlike the 'Hative de Niort', 'Jermor' has a 'longue' shape with good storage life. If it's too cold outside and you have a cold greenhouse or cold frame, you can start shallots off now in 8cm plastic pots, which gives them a good head start. They'll develop a healthy root system before being planted outside sometime in February or March. Make sure the bulb is sitting about halfway down the pot. Two or three weeks before planting outside, throw down some granular fertiliser on the soil (organic ones are available).

Shallots are surprisingly easy to grow and very rewarding. I'd never want to be without them in the kitchen. One of my mainstays is a salsa that I serve whenever a meal needs a little kick. I'm always amazed by the number of people who say they don't like hot things but guzzle it down.

Take 5-6 medium tomatoes and finely chop, along with half a shallot and a few coriander leaves if you have them. Add a pinch of chilli powder (more if you want it fiery), salt, pepper, around 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (30ml) and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Make it an hour or two before you intend to eat it. Enjoy!

PS You can read about 'Jermor' and the 100 best veg varieties recommended by experts in the February 2010 issue of Gardeners' World Magazine.

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Gardeners' World Web User 26/01/2010 at 16:15

I grew Golden Gourmet last year and had a brilliant crop - unlike my Red Baron onions which were a wash out. This year it is shallots only! I started mine in the greenhouse just because i am a veg novice and wanted to be able to see they were growing before they have to combat the army of slugs and other pests in my garden.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/01/2010 at 12:01

I too love growing shallots. The red banana- shaped shallots look beautiful enough to grow in a flowerbed and grow as big as onions do for me. i have none left as I use them everywhere you can use onions - soups, stews,risotto, pizza.

Gardeners' World Web User 03/02/2010 at 20:49

Don't forget Shallots are excellent pickled,use a pickled onion recipe and be sure to brine them for 24 hours. Pickled in late August / September and given a couple of months to mellow they'll be fantastic for Christmas and a nicely presented jar makes a lovely gift.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/02/2010 at 19:25

hello i have yellow moon,how are they? my first time growing shallots and only been growing veg for two year.

Gardeners' World Web User 10/03/2010 at 19:53

I've just planted my first lot of shallots , as I'm a newby allotment holder: I got a banana shallot called "virgorami" I think. Totally new to this whole thing, but I'll see how it goes. Apart from regular weeding and watering is there anything else I must do: what sort of pests like shallots too, and how can I combat them?

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