Fiona Lawrenson says go for superior shallots
instead of ordinary onions - they are nearly ready for
Shallots are probably the easiest of all the onion family
to grow and, from my point of view, the tastiest. Shop
sold shallots can be expensive to buy and difficult
to get hold of. If you grow them yourself you can store
them for a considerable time, longer than any other
type of onion.
Shallots are ideal for a small plot as they mature quicker
and take up less space. They love an open sunny site.
They prefer a lighter soil, but can cope with heavier
soils as long as they aren't compacted, as this will
cause the roots to push the shallot out of the ground.
All onions hate any competition from weeds, so make
sure you keep it a weed-free zone, or they will turn
their toes up!
Shallots are grown from sets (a single shallot bulb).
Each set produces a cluster of 7 or 8 shallots. I would
make sure you buy your sets from a reputable source
that guarantees that they are virus free.
Shallots need a long growing season; in milder areas
I would recommend sowing them in December or January
and, in colder climes, in February and March.
Plant the sets by pushing them gently into the soft
ground, 6" apart, so that their tips are just visible.
If you soil is heavy, use a trowel. If you are planting
more than one row, space the rows about 8" - 10" apart,
so that they don't overcrowd.
Only water shallots in the driest of weather. An old
gardener advised me that shallots benefit from a top-dressing
of soot, carefully placed around the onions, during
their growing season. Don't get the soot on the plant
In late June remove the soil from around the clumps
by hand, being careful not to disturb the roots, as
this helps the bulbs to ripen in the sun.
To harvest: wait for the leaves to turn yellow and then
Traditionally, onions are left on the surface to dry
off in the warm sun and this is still the best way -
but if its wet they will rot so bring them indoors,
preferably into a greenhouse. Rub off any excess mud
and flaky skins, and take off the dried leaves. Now
they are ready to store - but do make sure that they
are all healthy - throw away any that are spongy and
soft. Store them in nets or string bags so that the
air can circulate in a cool, frost-free space.
Shallots are great eaten raw as they have a very subtle
flavour, but my favourite way is to simply roast them.
Top and tail the shallots and then remove the outer
skin. Leave them whole; place them on a shallow baking
tray and drizzle over a mixture of runny honey and olive
oil so that they are lightly covered. Add salt and pepper
to taste; bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 180c.
The shallots should be caramelised on the outside and
are excellent eaten with your Sunday roast.
Best variety: Aristocratic Shallots
This variety has proved to be a winner all over the
country as its bulb is of a superb quality and tastes
Medway's Vegetable Seed Specialist
Old School Lane
LL61 5RZ Tel/Fax 01248 714851
with premission from Greenfingers.com