Mild-tasting shallots are one of the easiest crops you can grow. You can raise them from seed, but it’s so much simpler and quicker starting with sets (small shallots) that you grow on to cooking size.
Shallots have a milder flavour than onions and are used in a variety of dishes, particularly in French cooking, where onions would be too over-powering.
How to grow shallots
Grow shallots in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Water in dry conditions and keep the area around them weed free. Harvest when the foliage starts to die down.
To help prevent fungal diseases like onion white rot, try to avoid getting the foliage wet when watering. Water plants at their base, which will also help to ensure it reaches the roots and isn’t lost to evaporation.
More on growing shallots:
How to plant shallots
Planting shallot sets
You can plant shallot sets in early spring or autumn. From an autumn planting you’ll get earlier, heavier crops. Like onions, shallots prefer sun and a moisture-retentive, fertile soil, ideally with plenty of well-rotted organic matter such as garden compost added.
It’s worth looking for heat-treated shallot sets, as the resulting plants are less prone to bolting (producing flowers). Bolting reduces the quality of the crop.
Rake over the soil to break down any large lumps. Plant sets with the tips showing. Space your shallots, which produce multiple bulbs, 15-20cm apart. Allow 30cm between rows.
Cover with fleece or netting to stop birds pulling up the bulbs.
How to care for shallots
Short foliage appearing above ground
In spring, apply a nitrogen-rich fertiliser to autumn-planted bulbs to give them a boost. Water well during dry spells.
Shallots (like onions) are shallow rooting, so hand weed rather hoe between the rows.
How to harvest shallots
Autumn-planted sets are ready after 36 weeks, spring-planted sets after 20 weeks, but as soon as your shallots are big enough to use you can harvest them. The leaves will droop over and turn brown when they’ve stopped growing.
In this practical video, Monty Don shows you how to lift shallots without damaging them, so they store well. He also explains how to tell if your crop is ready to harvest:
Growing shallots: problem solving
Shallots are usually trouble free, though they can be affected by onion white rot – a fungal disease found in soil that causes the foliage to yellow and wilt.
In this video, Monty Don shows you how to identify the symptoms of onion white rot and how to prevent it in future years. As he harvests his infected shallots, Monty suggests many other crops that you can plant in their place, which will not be affected by this fungal disease:
Cooking with shallots
Cut off the tops and peel, then slice or chop finely. Shallots are excellent roasted and they’re delicious braised whole in casseroles.
How to store shallots
Spread shallots out on newspaper or racks to dry. They’re ready when their outer skins rustle when you touch them. Hang them in nets in a cool, dark, dry place. They should store well for months.
Shallot varieties to grow
Freshly harvested shallots
‘Golden Gourmet’ – a heavy cropper with good flavour. It keeps well
- ‘Red Gourmet’ – early maturing with red flesh. The spicy taste is great in salads and cooking
‘Red Sun’ – good yields of large, red-tinged bulbs with crisp, spicy, white flesh. Stores well. Plant in spring