Shallots are highly prized for gourmet cooking. Their mild flavor adds to any dish. They are used to finish off the flavor of many dishes where garlic or onions would over power the dish. Someone described them to me the other day as a “sneaky” onion. If you have picky kids like ours they usually see onions in a dish and balk. One of our kids will go as far as to pick each onion out of the dish (if she eats it at all). Shallots add flavor to your dish but disappear when you cook them, allowing you to “sneak” them in on picky eaters.
Shallots couldn’t be easier to grow. In fact if you give them the right growing conditions they will pretty much take care of themselves.
Shallots prefer a rich well drained soil. If your soil retains a lot of water then you will want to amend it with lots of compost so the soil will drain. Overly moist soil is the enemy of shallots. If your soil is too moist the shallots may rot in the ground.
If your area is prone to wet winters you may want to try building a ridge of soil and planting the shallots on the top of the ridge. This will give the water a chance to drain away from your shallot bulbs
In Zones 5 and warmer you will plant your shallots from sets (bulbs) after your first fall frost. For us here in Zone 5/6 Utah that means planting around the 15th of October. If you live in Zone 4 or colder you will probably want to wait and plant them in the spring after your spring thaw.
Plant the bulbs about 6 inches apart and 2 or 3 inches deep. You plant the bulbs with the root break down and the pointed side up. You want the tip of the shallot to be just below the surface of the soil.
In colder zones you will want to protect the shallots over the winter with a layer of straw. (Zones 5, 6 and maybe 7).
Shallots are pretty care free plants. Other than making sure they have water they pretty much take care of themselves. If they are planted in good soil you don’t need to worry about fertilizer. If you happen to have any plants that put off a flower stalk remember to cut it off right away. A flower will take away energy from the growing bulbs and will affect the storage life of your crop.
Shallots are a similar to onions with their harvest time. When the tops start to die off and turn yellow you know it’s time to harvest. Again for us in Zone 5/6 that is around mid-July. Once you harvest them bring them into a warm dry garage and let them cure for a week or two.
Shallots are very prolific. We grew two types this year. We planted only 4 bulbs total. One variety forms a large bulb. The two plants we grew of these produced a total of 16 bulbs. The other variety produces much smaller bulbs but the two bulbs we planted produced over 30 new bulbs this year.
Once they have cured go ahead and remove any roots and cut the dried tops off. They can then be stored in a mesh bag in a cool, dry pantry. You want your storage space to be dry, moisture can cause your shallots to rot, mold or sprout.
Remember to save some of the bigger bulbs to plant for next year’s crop. I learned an interesting fact about shallots while I was researching this post. Shallots have been cloned from bulbs for so many years that most varieties don’t even flower any more. And those that do flower are nearly always sterile. So you want to remember to save some bulbs for next year’s crop.
There are loads of varieties out there, but many are locally adapted. Just like garlic, shallot varieties adapt to the location they are grown in. This can be good and bad. Good because if you find a type that grows well in your garden it will tend to get even better as the years go on. Bad because many types become so localize that they will never do well in different climates.
It’s hard to recommend varieties to my readers. In fact I don’t even know what varieties I grow (a local gardening friend gave me both my varieties and I never asked the type). Do your research. Check with your local extension agency and they should be able to recommend a variety. Or try talking to a farmer at your local farmers market. Chances are if they have been successful in your area you can just buy some shallots from them and save some for your garden.
Shallots are one of the simpler crops to grow so it surprises me how expensive they are to buy. You can by pounds and pounds of onions for just a little money. But a few ounces of shallots will set up back a lot cash. So start your gourmet shallot garden this year!!