Shallots are a member of the onion family. Divine in stews where they enrich the whole dish as they melt into oozy gorgeousness. They can also be pickled if you like a crunchy tang.
Shallots can be grown from seed but sets (immature bulbs) are the more common way to start them. Sets are quicker to mature and better in colder regions. They are also harder for pests such as birds to unearth giving a greater success rate. Seeds are, of course, more economical as you get more of them for your money.
Plants are easy to grow and can be grown in any well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. They need a long growing period but make a good companion plant so can be planted between faster-growing crops.
Preparing the Ground
To prepare your bed add some organic matter such as manure or garden compost. Also add in a moderate dressing of any general purpose fertiliser.
Plant the sets 10" (25cm) apart in rows 16" (40cm) 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 this is a problem in your area you may actually want to sow the sets into Rootrainers instead. See this Exploring the Rhizosphere blog if you'd like to know why this works!
If you would rather start shallots from seed, sow from March to April 1cm (½in) deep in rows 12 in (30cm) apart. Each seed produces a single shallot. Thin seedlings to anything from 1-3in (2.5-7.5cm) apart, depending on how large you want the individual shallots to develop.
You will need to keep them weeded so that they don't get overwhelmed. The SpeedHoe or SpeedHoe Precision if you have planted them in a busier bed will both be perfect for this task. Water if the weather is dry. Try to avoid overhead watering as this could encourage Onion Mildew (see below). Remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.
In around July the foliage will start to turn yellow. this means that the shallots are ready to harvest. Use a fork to lift the bulbs. Separate the clusters and allow to dry. Store them like onions in a Haxnicks Veg Sack in a frost free place.
Pest & Diseases
Onion white rot - A soil-borne fungus that can cause yellowing and wilting of the foliage and rotting of the roots and bulb below the soil. A white fluffy fungus appears on the base of the bulb and later becomes covered in small, round black structures.
There is no real cure for onion white rot once it is in the soil. Get rid of contaminated plants. Take care to avoid spreading it to other sites on muddy boots or tools used in the area.
Onion downy mildew - another fungal disease that damages foliage and bulbs. Watch out for this when there are very damp conditions. It leads to reduced yields.
Try to avoid it by using the recommended spacings and not sowing plants too densely. Weed regularly too. This will ensure that they have plenty of light and air around them. Remove any affected leaves.