Allotment shallots revisited

The tradition is to plant shallots around the shortest day of the year in the UK which is 21 December and then to lift on the longest which is 21 June. Shallots turn up all the time in supermarkets now, and cost a fortune, so it’s worth growing your own even if you don’t have an allotment. As they need a period of cold to divide and produce more shallots, we tend to get them into the ground earlier than 21 December, as our warmer winters mean there's a risk they won't get the 30+ days of near or sub zero temperature that they need.

To plant them, offer a rich but well-drained soil as they are prone to rotting if it’s too waterlogged. Plant them like a miniature onion, with just the tops visible. Don’t push them down into the earth as all the old gardening books say: it damages them if they get bruised or can even cause them to fracture on stones or bits of sharp grit in the soil which gives mould and disease easy access to the bulb.

If they are planted around six inches apart and weeded carefully you can pretty well ignore them until the growing tops begin to yellow, which shows it is harvest time. They keep well and have a wonderful flavour, like concentrated onions in a titchy format.

A couple of years ago I wasn’t sure why the folk lore claimed that if you want large shallots you should plant small ones, and if you want small shallots you should plant large ones. However, I think I have now found out why. It’s because the smaller shallots are the outside cloves, which are productive (they bulb and produce other cloves) while the big ones tend to be big inner cloves around which the smaller ones would nestle and they don’t have the same cellular make-up as the little ones: the larger ones act more as a food store, and if you planted a whole head of shallots you’d find that the outside ones multiplied while the inside one (or ones) will shrivel up and rot away, as they transfer their store of nutrients to the outer ones. If you plant a large shallot and it’s an inner one it will tend just to replicate, not to proliferate, apparently!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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