Shallots are normally planted as sets (immature bulbs). They can be sown from seed, but most gardeners prefer to start from sets as they are quicker to mature, are better in colder regions, less likely to be attacked by some pests and diseases and need less skill to grow than seed.
Add organic matter, such as manure or garden compost before planting and rake in a dressing of general purpose fertiliser.
Plant shallot sets 25cm (10in) apart in rows 40cm (16in) apart from mid-November to mid-March. Gently push them into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing and firm the soil around them. Birds can be a problem lifting the sets, so cover freshly planted rows with horticultural fleece to prevent this.
Sets can be planted through black weed suppressing membrane to prevent weeds and avoiding the need to hoe.
Water if the weather is dry and remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.
Shallots are ready to harvest when the foliage starts to turn yellow in July. Lift the bulb clusters with a hand fork, separate them and allow to dry. Shallots can be stored in trays or bags in a frost free place.
'Golden Gourmet': Large brown skinned bulbs, heavy yielding.
'Pikant' AGM: Strong-flavoured, medium sized.
'Matador' AGM: Good size and colour.
'Mikor': Roundish bulbs with copper skin and white flesh.
'Pesandor': Slender, long bulbs ideal for slicing.
Onion white rot: A soil-borne fungus that can cause yellowing and wilting of the foliage above ground, while rotting the roots and invading the bulb beneath the soil. A white fluffy fungus appears on the base of the bulb and later becomes covered in small, round black structures.
Remedy: There is no chemical cure for onion white rot when it is the soil. It is important to avoid introduction to previously clean sites. It is transported in contaminated soil, for example on tools or on muddy footwear. Take particular care in areas where cross contamination can occur easily, for example on allotments.
More information on onion white rot
Onion downy mildew: A fungal disease that damages foliage and bulbs, resulting in poor yields. It is a particular problem in damp conditions.
Remedy: Avoid problems by make sure there is plenty of light and air around plants by sowing or planting at correct spacings, and by regular weeding. Avoid overhead watering if possible. Infected leaves can be removed.
More information on onion downy mildew