This week I did a final tidy up in my allotment clearing the last fallen leaves and those stubborn weeds still sprouting even during the winter.
The final tidy didn’t take much time so I had a look round my allotment shed to see if I could find anything suitable to plant in mid December. Rummaging through seed packets and empty pots I found the perfect thing – I paper bag with eight shallot sets nestling in its dark interior.
An often over looked member of the allium family, shallots are a marvelous alternative to onions. They usually have a milder taste than onions and can be stored for longer than onions with some varieties storing well for twelve months!
Traditionally shallots are planted on the 21st of December – the shortest day of the year and harvested on the 21st of June – the longest day of the year. However these dates are just guidelines and really shallots are a crop that can be sown in the winter and harvested during the summer.
In the allotment or home vegetable patch shallots should be planted as “sets”; sets are immature bulbs which have been specially developed for easy planting and growing. Trying to grow shallots from seed is best avoided by the amateur gardener – in fact shallot seeds are really only used in commercial growing where they are planted by machine.
Shallots should be planted in rows with ten inches between each set and fifteen inches between rows. Do not completely bury the sets, rather make sure just the tip is visible. Birds may pose a problem for newly planted shallots as they like to pull them up, for this reason it is advisable to put a cover such as netting or even a cloche over your shallots until they have put down roots.
Once your shallots have rooted there is not much to do except keep on top of any weeds that sprout up, and make sure to water them if there is a dry stretch of weather. Your shallots will be ready for harvest when the foliage turns yellow and starts to die. Use a garden fork to carefully pries the clumps out of the earth taking care not to stab any of the bulbs.
Separate and clean the bulbs and store them in a cool dry frost free environment and they will keep for many months.