No longer just grown for pickling and eating with a good chunk of bread and cheese, shallots have at last been recognised as a fine vegetable worthy of space in most gardens.
Shallots can be grown either from seed or from sets, a set being an offset from a mature shallot. Growing shallots from seed is the cheapest option but does require more time and effort. Unlike an onion where a set grows into one large bulb shallots develop about 6 offsets clustered around the set which all plump up over time to an equal size.
Sets are available for both spring and autumn planting. Plant them in autumn and the benefit is that they will be ready that little bit sooner creating space for something else to be grown.
When planting shallots their tips need to be just showing but this is when the birds will have some fun. Birds tend to pull the shallots out of the soil, no doubt looking for grubs, but providing you are quick in planting the sets again they will grow on fine. Space the rows about 30cm apart and leave 20cm between each set. Once roots begin to develop the birds will find their entertainment elsewhere and thereafter you just need to keep the area weed free and water in dry weather. The occasional feed won’t go amiss either.
Your shallots will be ready in July/August. Once the leaves have yellowed and dried you know to leave it a week and then to carefully lift your shallots. Leave them to dry in the sun but if it rains do bring them under cover. Providing they are well dried and disease-free stored shallots will last for up to 6 months.
Similar to their cousins, the onions, shallots have a sweeter milder taste and are less pungent. They can be sliced and eaten raw in salads, used as flavouring in vinegars and dressings and are also lovely roasted whole or added whole to casseroles and stews.
Just one word of warning. Like their cousins the onions, shallots can and will make you cry!