Growing Shallots

Sticker shock at the supermarket is unusual, but a bin of shallots priced at 50 cents each qualifies. So what’s a gardener to do? Grow them yourself.

A member of the onion family, shallots can be planted in the late fall for an early summer harvest or in the early spring for a late summer crop. Only where winters are extreme should a fall planting be avoided.

Otherwise, fall and spring plantings will create a double harvest.

Shallots are almost always grown from bulbs. These are initially purchased, but some can be stored for later plantings.

Burpee offers three varieties of shallots. Each has a slightly different taste. All mature in 90 to 120 days.

The Holland Red has a sweet, mild garlic flavor and is very aromatic. The crop will store for five to six months.

Dutch Yellow offers a mild, onion-like flavor and marries well with many recipes.

French Red is very prolific and favored by chefs for use with seafood, meats and other vegetables. The harvested bulbs are one to two inches in diameter and are sweet, similar to a green onion flavor. They are very mild.

Ten shallot sets are sold in an order, each set has two cloves.

They should be grown in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.

Shallots are soil tolerant growing well where the pH is between 5.0 and 7.0. It is always a good idea to have garden soil tested every few years to determine what if any amendments it might need.

As shallots are planted close to the surface, a bed of peat, compost or well-rotted manure will help retain moisture. This is essential when the plants are young as they can easily dry out. For fall planting where winters are cold, a six-inch blanket of leaves will protect the plants. They will grow right through the leaves in the spring.

For spring planting, it’s best to prepare the bed in the fall and protect it with leaves where winters are cold. About a month to six weeks before your frost free date, plants the cloves. They need a dormant period of cool to cold weather for about a month.

Plant the cloves in rows with just the top of the clove protruding from the surface. The thick end of the clove points down when planting. Space the cloves about six inches apart and leave a foot or more between rows.

As shallots are shallow rooted, it is important to weed the bed often and carefully so as not to disturb the plant roots. Weeds will compete with the plants for moisture and nutrients and need to be removed.

As the plants grow, they will send up leaves similar to scallions. The outer leaves can be cut and used in the kitchen.

As the plants grow, additional soil can be heaped up on them.

The plants are ready to harvest when the leaves turn brown. Dig them up, leaves and, all using a pitchfork if necessary. Each clove should yield 10 to 20 shallots.

Let them cure on a length of chicken wire for up to a month. Keep them dry and out of the sun. The curing will mellow the flavor of the shallots and increase their storage life.

Store shallots in mesh bags in a cool space where there is good air circulation and temperatures around 50 degrees.