Shallots - allium ascalonicum when cooked, have a delicate sweet mild taste compared to the sharper more acid taste of onions.
Like onions they can be easily grown from seeds or sets.
However, unlike onions which produce one large bulb, shallots produce 6-12 small bulbs.
Growing shallots from sets instead of seeds is the speedier option.
They should be grown in an area that gets six to eight hours of continuous sunlight.
The growing area should be prepared with the addition of well rotted manure/compost well in advance of planting out.
Just prior to planting rake in a top dressing of a balanced general fertiliser.
Week 4: Sow seed in a tray of evenly firmed soil-less seed compost.
Sow the seed thinly, or singly onto the seed compost, and cover them 5mm (3/16”) deep with similar compost, then lightly water them in,taking care not wash out the seeds.
On completion, cover the tray with a sheet of glass and paper.
As soon as they have germinated, normally in about five to six days, take covers off and allow plenty light to the seedlings.
Grow on in Greenhouse at the same temperature, ventilate as much as possible (depending upon the weather) and position them to get maximum light at all times.
Grow on, giving them plenty of light, but being careful not to force them with too much heat, and too much water, 8°-10°C (45°-50°F) will do.
Watering will depend upon the weather, so always allow them to dry out between each watering.
It is advisable to spray seedlings, from the second leaf stage with a fungicide at regular intervals to deter damping off.
Week 13: Gradually harden off seedlings prior to planting out.
Work in a light dressing of general fertiliser before planting.
Push the setts into the ground 200mm (8") apart, in rows 300-400mm (12"-16") apart leaving only the tips showing.
If the ground is hard, make a drill and place the bulbs into it, pulling the soil back over the setts but leaving the tip exposed.
Thoroughly water in the shallots after planting to settle them in.
Keep your eye on the bulbs in the early stages, birds will pull them up.
If this happens, replant them immediately.
Use netting or fleece to protect them if birds are a real problem.
Alternatively, if ground conditions are such that makes planting out impossible, pot the bulbs up into 75mm (3") pots and grow on in a cold frame until such times as it is possible to plant outdoors.
This method can also be used if you want to get off to an earlier start.
Week 18>: Weed carefully and often, but take care not to disturb, damage or bury the bulbs.
Week 20: Plant out seed sown plants 200mm (8") apart, in rows 300-400mm (12"-16") apart.
Thoroughly water in the plants after planting to settle them in.
Week 22>: Applying a high potash feed to sets at this time can assist size and ripening.
To help them dry out, spread them on netting fixed to stakes or dry them off under a well ventilated frame.
Cover them if it rains.
An alternative method to drying them outdoors is set them out on slatted shelving in a greenhouse.
Once dry,remove loose skins and remains of foliage to reduce the risk of fungal infections in storage.
Take care not to bruise the bulbs and use any damaged specimens immediately.
Save a few bulbs for planting the following year, ensuring that these are completely sound and disease free.