It is a long time since I grew Shallots – I’m not the chef, just the vegetable grower, and in that role I had assumed that Shallots are the equivalent of small Onions (whilst I was aware that Shallots keep better than Onions, we’ve never had a problem storing Onions) and Chef has never expressed a wish for any additional variants of Onions for the kitchen. But this year’s goal is Maximum Flavour and in reading-around I now realise that the flavour of Shallots will benefit some types of cooking, so I bought a packet of seed (Shallot “Zebrune”).
I wasn’t sure about sowing time as my regular gardening books tend to refer to Sets, rather than Seed, for both Onions and Shallots, and Joy Larkcom says “Sow indoors in early spring like Bulb Onions on Page XXX” … well, the Bulb Onion page talks about making an early start (i.e. early January), under cover which is indeed what I do, but despite the mild Winter and the first Daffs being in flower I wouldn’t call that “Early Spring”! so I went on a research hunt with Google; that is always a time-consuming exercise as I get side tracked easily, and of course “Ask two gardeners and get three opinions” also applies so I’m often more confused at the end than I was at the start.
The two main conflicting opinions I read were “True Shallots cannot be grown from seed” and “All commercially grown Shallots are grown from seed“. What this translates into, I believe!, is that the Shallots favoured for flavour are vegetatively reproduced because they don’t set any seed, this includes varieties like Échalote Grise (which is French for Grey Shallot), Longor (the Jersey Shallot) and Hative de Niort. I’ve bought some sets of the first two from The Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight; they should really have been planted in the Autumn, but The Garlic Farm were very helpful and said they do have growers who buy & plant in the Spring, so I will pot them up (either that or start them in modules) and put them in the greenhouse for a bit so they can get a wiggle on.
The seed raised shallots are perhaps best termed “Dutch Shallots”, seed being produced for commercial growers (although I presume that in France their culinary varieties are indeed grown from offsets from the previous year’s crop) and given my new found enthusiasm for the French Shallots I was sitting on the fence about whether to bother with the Shallot seed I had bought – that was until I had watched some YouTubes from Dan’s “Allotment Diary” (the moment his videos launch with his customary “Hi Folks” I am immediately cheered up, along with his stock phrases like “just a quick update” which then becomes a well informed education lesson). I watched his video on sowing & growing Shallots and looking back through his YouTube history I can see he’s made a similar video every year for quite some time, going back to the point at which he first tried them and then waxed lyrical about how much better [he thought] they were than Onions (“Once you’ve tried them you’ll always grow them again“), so I’m sold!
The Garlic Farm, Suttons Seeds Shallot Zebrune, Dan’s Allotment Diary : Growing Giant Banana Shallots : You must try these ! on YouTube. If you don’t already know Dan’s videos it is worth looking out for his Pottery Videos too, he’s a talented lad, eh?, and I particularly liked his video about making a Recorder [musical instrument] out of a Carrot, which he seemed to do effortlessly.