The Shallot – A Little History and Some Growing Instructions
Shallots are closely related to multiplier onions which are small onions that multiply freely by producing several lateral bulbs. The difference between a multiplier onion and a shallot is arbitrary. Commercially those onions with yellow or brown skins and white interiors are classed as multiplier onions while those with red skins and a distinctive, delicate flavor are classed as shallots. Unlike onions, shallot bulbs are made up of cloves like garlic and are the size of chestnuts.
Shallots have long been associated with fine French cuisine. Their delicate flavor, when cooked, adds to but does not overpower other flavors.
Shallot bulbs may be planted in the fall or the spring similar to garlic. Fall plantings will mature earlier. Spring plantings may be made anytime the soil can be made ready for planting up to the middle of June in most locations.
Like garlic bulbs, shallots planted in the fall go through a short, approximately 2-week dormant period, and then roots emerge and leaves sprout. With the onset of winter, the leaves die back and the roots cease to grow. This process is called vernalization. Proper bulbing is a function of adequate growth, vernalization and subsequent growth under longer days. Bulbs planted in the spring must experience some minimal cold treatment in order to insure proper bulbing.
Shallots can be grown in many different types of soil, but the plants prefer a rich moist sandy soil. Turn the soil and add some lime before planting. Break the bulbs apart into individual cloves and plant, root end down, one inch deep, making certain that the growing point is exposed above the surface of the ground. Leave 6 inches between cloves in rows 18-24 inches apart. Mulch immediately. In the spring, apply a nitrogen rich fertilizer and water like any garden green. Shallots are shallow rooted and benefit from frequent watering.
Shallots will be ready to harvest in 90-120 days when the bulbs are well colored and 1-2 inches in diameter and the leaf tops have dried off. Shallots should be allowed to cure in the field for a day or two in warm weather before being placed in storage. Bundle in groups and hang inside, out of direct sunlight and where there is good air circulation.
Shallots are best stored in netted onion bags at temperatures of 32-35 degrees fahrenheit. Humidity in the 60%-70% is preferable. With good air flow and low humidity, shallots should store for 8-10 months.