Shallots are an easy to grow vegetable with a distinctive flavour that can be used for cooking or pickling. There are many tempting varieties with bulbs in many shapes and sizes. Plants are undemanding and can be grown in any well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. They need a long growing period but can be interplanted with faster-growing crops.

Shallot

Jobs to do now

  • Prepare soil
  • Plant shallot sets
  • Sow seeds

Month by month

Sow

Sowing/planting: Shallots can be started from seed or more usually from sets (immature bulbs). 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. Seed was developed for mechanical cultivation and is not usually worthwhile for garden crops.

Add up to two bucketfuls of organic matter such as manure or garden compost before planting and take in a moderate dressing of any general purpose fertiliser.

Can be planted through black weed supressing membrane to ease weed control and avoid the need to hoe.

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; covering with fleece will prevent this.

If you would rather start shallots from seed, sow from March to April 1cm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart. Each seed produces a single shallot. Thin seedlings to anything from 2.5-7.5cm (1-3in) apart, depending on how large you want the individual shallots to develop.

Grow

Water if the weather is dry and remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.

Plant

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.

Common problems

Onion white rot
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 info on Onion white rot

Onion downy mildew
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 info on Onion downy mildew

Harvesting

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.

Varieties

'Hative de niort':Exhibitors favourite, unsurpassable on the showbench when restricted to 3 or 4 bulbs per root and well grown. Lovely straw coloured skin when fully ripe.

'Longor' AGM:Highly prized for its robust flavour and good storage potential. Each shallot yields 6 to 8 bulbs at harvest.Elongated banana type variety.

'Matador' AGM:A high yielding variety with reddish brown bulbs. Has a very high dry matter content so has good storing capability..

'Zebrune' AGM:Unusual for a shallot as its grown from seed not sets. A French bred banana/torpedo shaped bulb. Good resistance to bolting. A heritage variety. 

'Meloine' AGM:Round bulb shape with reddish brown skins.Forms a clump of up to 8 bulbs per root. Harvested in August from a Spring planting and will store for several months. Has some downy mildew resistance.
 

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