Shallots are a type of onion. Slightly milder in flavor, shallots add a special touch to your cooking and, yes, cutting them up will make you cry.
Until recently, shallots were classified as their own species, but we now know that they are, in fact, members of the onion family, along with scallions, chives, leeks, and garlic.
Types of shallots
Shallots are believed to have originated in Central or Southwest Asia. There are several types of shallots, but the two most well known are the popular, red-skinned shallot (Allium cepal), and the more flavorful French Grey shallots (A. oschaninii).
How shallots grow
Shallots are a type of bulb. Rather than growing a single bulb, the way onions do, or as a single head with several cloves, the way garlic grows, shallots create clusters of identical daughter bulbs, called offsets. Covering each bulb is a protective layer of papery tissue that can range in color from golden brown of a crimson red. The flesh can be off-white, tinged with magenta or green. Shallots are very tolerant plants. They can handle bright, hot sunlight or partial shade, and they will grow in soil pH from 5.0 to 6.8. Shallots love phosphorus, so they tend to grow very well in the Bay Area. The one thing they cannot tolerate is poor drainage. Shallots that sit in soggy soil will rot.
How to grow shallots
October and November are the best times of year to plant shallots in the Bay Area. You can start with seeds, but I urge you to try using those offshoots, commonly called “starts” for faster results. Prepare the bed by top dressing with aged compost. The looser the soil is, the better. Then, simply press the root end of each bulb down, into the soil, leaving the shoulders of the bulb above ground. Space plants 6” apart. Rows should be 10” apart. Do not mulch heavily on top of the bulbs as this can interfere with initial growth. Straw works well.
In spring, as your shallot bulbs begin to develop bulbs, give them a nutritional boost with aged compost or a well-balanced organic fertilizer. Shallots use 1” of water a week, so be sure to irrigate regularly during dry spells.
If flower stalks emerge, remove them. Continue watering and weeding your shallots until the tops of the leaves begin to turn yellow and fall over.
Shallots grow very well in containers and look lovely on windowsills, especially when so many other plants are dormant. In the Bay Area, I have been able to keep growing the same shallot plants for 3 years. When I need one, I simply wiggle it out of the soil and cut it off 1/4 inch above the roots and cover the roots back up with soil. Nearly always, a new shallot bulb develops (but not always).
If you harvest the entire plant, cut the leaves an inch or two above the bulb and allow the bulb to dry in a cool, dark area. If cured properly, they can be stored for up to 6 months. If you leave some of your shallot plants to continue their life cycle, you can collect your own offshoots for the next season’s crop.
Shallot pests and diseases
Leek moth larvae will burrow into the bulbs and leaves of shallots, but I have not had any problems with my container grown shallots. Gophers are a big problem, so you may need to bury hardware cloth under your shallot bed. I have dogs.
Shallots are pricey in the store, but easy to grow at home. Give shallots a try today!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!