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EDDIE Grove would certainly demur if I told him, and you, that he certainly knows his onions when it comes to growing shallots.
The reason? Both he, I and you, know that shallots and onions, while members of the same allium family — also inhabited by leeks and garlic — are as different those two.
The flavour and – obviously – size differ radically. Shallots are both diminutive when compared to their larger cousins, much sweeter and less burny.
Eddie swears by planting his sets on the shortest day and harvesting on the longest day in June, keeping alive the memory of that great Seaview gardener Gerry Caws by preserving his ‘line’ of exhibition shallots for many years.
A great re-user, Eddie employs secondhand plastic bags in which to pop the sets, then transfer to his patch when conditions allow.
Eddie’s shallots showing nicely.
I am aware of late December being recommended for planting seed (Eric on the allotment was a Christmas Day devotee) but I’ve always planted my sets out in March after the soil has warmed and dried, rather than employing Eddie’s head-start technique.
Cultivation from seed, rather than from the by far the most popular method now – from sets – has the advantage to us gardeners of being much cheaper. There is also much greater variety on offer.
You have not missed the boat by sowing seed up until the end of next month and hopefully you will achieve shallots as big as Eddie’s – because the size of the bulb is important to the final yield.
The disadvantage of seed is that from each one you will get just one bulb, so you will be able to eat some from summer onwards and save some sets for next year, which you can plant and which will divide and produce between five and ten, but probably nearer five bulbs from each set.
Eddie has kindly gifted me some of his Caws exhibition sets which I will try this year (pictured to the right of the main image above) alongside 20 sets of a quite new variety, Red Sun, at a cost of £5.99 from Thompson & Morgan (on the left of the same image). They are a globe variety and attractively red tinged.
Now both these varieties of sets are of impressive quality, large, heavy bulbs that will produce lots of big, bulbous brothers, but the latter not at modest cost.
One way round that is to plant shop-bought bulbs from the greengrocery counter which are cheaper (30 bulbs can be bought for just £1) but they are smaller and you may not know the variety.
Whichever way you go, add organic matter such as manure or garden compost before planting and a moderate dressing of any general-purpose fertiliser. I personally like organic chicken manure pellets.
Shallots can be planted through black weed suppressant membrane. It does not look good but it does circumvent the need for fiddly weeding.
Ideally, plant sets ten inches apart with 16in between rows from mid-November to mid-March when the soil is workable. Gently push them into soft soil so that the tip is just showing and firm around them. If you plant them closer together the shallots will generally be smaller and there is increased risk of disease because air-flow is reduced.
Spring-planted shallots will be ready to harvest when the foliage starts to turn yellow in July, a month later than Eddie’s. Lift the bulb clusters with a hand fork, or trowel, separate them and allow to dry. They can be stored in trays or net bags in a frost-free place either for culinary use or to plant next year.
And that’s s’hallot, as they say…
Want to read more of Richard’s work? Here’s his latest thoughts on onions…
READ: Know your onions for the tastiest treats
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