Apparently, Shallots probably came from Central Asia, but as the Ancient Greeks thought that they came from “Ascalon” in Israel, they were originally called “Scallions”. Nowadays, Spring onions are sometimes known as “Scallions” in Scotland and Ireland.
Shallots are sweeter than onions and generally will store much longer than onions, provided they have not run to seed. The smaller shallots tend to store longer as the necks of the shallots seal more easily.
The basic difference between Shallots and Onions is that shallots split into several shallots if given a long enough growing season, whereas onions only make one bulb. Shallots are generally smaller than onions at harvest.
Shallots are traditionally grown from Shallot sets. These are individual small shallots, which multiply through the growing season through offsets. It is easier and quicker to grow shallots from sets, rather than from seeds, but it is also much more expensive.
Shallots sets can be planted either in Autumn or Spring. Independent tests indicate that Spring planted sets generally produce bigger crops than Autumn planted sets, while Autumn planted sets may be ready some two weeks earlier than the Spring planted sets.
If starting with Shallot sets, plant each Shallot at 20 cm apart, with the pointed tip just below the surface of well prepared ground. Each row should be 30 cm apart. They should be planted when the ground is workable. Make sure that you plant the sets with the basal plate downwards, as this is where the roots will sprout.
Some of the Shallots may produce flower buds during the growing season, and these should be removed to improve the size of the shallots. The buds can be used as flavouring in cooked dishes. Any Shallots that have produced a flower bud should be used first as they are unlikely to store well.
The clump of Shallots grown from sets are likely to start to die down naturally in July, when the leaves go brown and fall onto the ground. The clumps should be lifted and pulled apart and then placed in a sunny, dry spot such as in a cold frame for several weeks, to completely dry off.
Suggested varieties of Spring planted Shallot Sets.
Golden Gourmet. The heaviest producing in tests with large flattened golden globes.
Longor. Produces best quality long, firm, golden bulbs which should store well.
Mikor. Produces round to long pinkish bulbs.
Red Sun. A red skinned, squat, globe-shaped, firm variety.
Topper. Produces small, slightly flattened, round shallots.
Pikant. Smaller bulbs, with robust flavour and more resistant to bolting.
Suggested varieties of Autumn planted Shallot Sets.
Jermor. Rated the best of the Autumn planted sets with firm, long bulbs.
Shallots grown from seed
The first Dutch hybrid shallot seed was released as recently as 1992 and has revolutionised the commercial growing of Shallots, and will do the same for amateur growers. It allows the growing of shallots free from imported viral, fungal and bacterial infections. They are also unlikely to go to seed before harvesting time, the bane of growing from sets. They are more likely to only produce 1 bulb without splitting, especially if they are sown very close together, thus improving the keeping quality of the shallots. It is therefore surprising that this method of growing Shallots is not better known, even by the RHS. My own results growing from seed, have been very good, with good size, shape and keeping quality, especially if they are not too big.
If starting from shallot seed, sow 3 or 4 seeds in each module of a tray, from January onwards in gentle heat. Move to a cool greenhouse or cold frame once germinated, and grow on till April. Plant out each module at 15 cm apart with the rows at 30 cm apart. No need to separate the seedlings as they will just push each other apart as they grow.
Alternatively, in March and April, sow the seeds every 2 cm, in rows 30 cm apart in well prepared soil. Yes, it is close but you read that spacing correctly! A close spacing is advised to provide a good crop of bulbs resistant to splitting into 2 bulbs. A single bulb stores better.
The Shallots are unlikely to be ready to harvest until August or even September in the North of the UK. Again lift the Shallots and place them in a sunny, dry spot such as in a cold frame for several weeks, to completely dry off before storing in a cool, dry place.
Suggested varieties of Shallot Seed.
Banana. Rated the best seed sown shallot with long, red-flushed skins with thick necks which may be difficult to dry.
Ambition F1. Smaller crop of squat, globe-shaped bulbs.
Prisma. Smaller crop of squat, globe-shaped bulbs.
Banana Shallots or Echalions.
So called “Banana Shallots” or “echalions”, are best grown from seed each year. You will get much bigger shallots and they do not go to seed. Again, growing from seed eliminates bringing disease into your plot. Be aware that many of the banana shallots sold in the shops to eat, have been treated with a sprouting inhibitor chemical and will not grow.
Suggested varieties of Banana Shallots or “Echalions”.
Echalions Cuisses De Poulet Du Poitou.
Pests and diseases. Onion fly can cause a lot of damage. White rot is caused by a fungus and stays a long time in the ground. Strict crop rotation helps to prevent this problem building up in the soil.
In some years, mice will eat the flesh of Shallots and leave just a hollowed out bulb as shown in photo to the right.