Photo courtesy of AndrewDavison at Flickr.com.
“They’re onions,” he said. “No, they’re garlic,” she said.
Actually, they are both right and they are both wrong. Shallots, onions, and garlic are all in the same family, but none of them are the same. Shallots taste like onions, but also a little like garlic; their distinct flavor is somewhere in between, with qualities of both. And while shallots may look more like onions, under the skin the bulbs are divided into cloves, like garlic.
Types of Shallots
Chefs like French-Italian shallots (also called French Red), which they can use either dry or green. Popular varieties include Pikant, Ambition, Ed’s Red, and Picasso.
Planting and Caring for Shallots
You can start shallots from sets, from transplanted seedlings, or from direct-sown seeds. Many gardeners have the best success with sets, especially in cold climates. Like garlic, shallots sets (or cloves) are typically planted two-to-four weeks before the date for the first fall frost. In climates where the ground does not freeze you can also plant shallots from mid-February to mid-March. Plant sets six-to-eight inches apart with the root scar down. Unlike flower bulbs that you plant deep under the soil, shallot bulbs or sets are planted with their tops just below the surface of the soil.
Another way to grow shallots is to interplant them with spring greens. After you harvest the early greens the shallots will have plenty of room to grow.
Shallots like well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Mulch well to control weeds and conserve moisture. After the bulbs swell remove the mulch so the sun can ripen the bulbs.
Shallot Pests and Diseases
Shallots are vulnerable to bacterial and fungal diseases as well as thrips and maggots. One way to minimize damage is to avoid planting where shallots, onions, or garlic have been grown in recent years.
You can harvest the green tops and use them like scallions or chives. Bulbs are mature when they are about one-quarter inch in diameter and the leaves turn yellow and dry. Keep a supply of healthy bulbs to plant for next season and you’ll never have to buy another shallot again.
Want to learn more about growing shallots?
Commercial shallots are grown mostly in Europe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them in your home garden. Learn more about growing shallots at these websites:
Video on how to plant shallots.