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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic Shallots


Greengrocers (and most cooks) call shallots 'onions'


Allium esculentum or A. cepa Aggregatum group

Family: Liliaceae (Group 6)

Unless you are a gardener, shallots are more commonly known as onions. Used in the same way, and having the same taste, shallots are onions which grow in clumps. Of the many varieties of shallot available, only a few are commonly grown in Britain, which include yellow and red-skinned onion-shaped forms and one pear-shaped cultivar, 'Hative de Niort', grown mainly for exhibition. Many of the yellow skinned varieties are exceptionally good for storage. The gardener's onion is dealt with on a separate page.

Recommended cultivars

Dutch Red
Long Keeping Red
Long-Keeping Yellow


Shallots require good, free draining soil with a high organic content. If you are growing from seed, you need to prepare an onion bed, basically similar to a seedbed in that the soil must be very fine in texture, but with much higher organic content. The soil should be dug over in early winter, incorporating plenty of manure or compost. Leave the ground rough so that the soil will be broken up by the frost. In spring, add lime if necessary and rake the soil flat, firming well, but make sure the ground is not compacted. Leave undisturbed for at least 10 days to become 'stale': onion flies are attracted by freshly disturbed soil, but will not lay eggs unless there are onions for their larvae to feed on.


Shallots may be raised from seed, which is treated like onion seed, but are more commonly grown from sets (single shallots), each of which multiplies into a clump. Where possible buy stock which is guaranteed virus-free, and only save home grown shallots for planting if they are very healthy. Choose sets about 2cm (¾") in diameter and with a weight of about 10g. This size of set will produce a clump of reasonable sized bulbs.

Plant sets as early as possible from December to March, depending on locality. Remove loose skin and plant 15cm by 20cm (6"x8") or 18cm each way (7"x7"), pushing each set into the ground so that the tips protrude. Protect from birds, who like to pull them out of the ground. Small sets may also be planted 2.5cm each way (1"x1") for use as spring onions.

Water after planting in dry weather until established. Keep well weeded.


A few leaves may be used during the growing season. The crop proper will be ready in July or August when the tops have died down. Lift the bulbs and leave them on the surface in the sun for a few days, turning them over occasionally to dry. In bad weather, they can be dried on mats stretched across a frame indoors, in single layers. After 7-21 days, inspect the bulbs, removing all soft bulbs, those with thickened necks, spots or damage for immediate use. Store in strings, net bags or on wire trays.

Pests and diseases

The most serious pest is onion fly, particularly on dry soils, but it is more likely on shallots grown from seed. The fly is attracted to freshly disturbed soil to lay its eggs. It can be deterred by sowing in a stale seed bed: i.e. A seedbed prepared 10 days in advance of sowing. This is particularly important for August sowings. Crops can also be grown under fine nets.

Stem and bulb eelworm can also be serious on infected soils. The best way to deal with this pest is rotation, growing brassicas or lettuces for two or three years. Keep the ground weed-free, as some common weeds harbour these pests.

If you're interested in healthy food, you may also be interested in our sister site, The Health Site, Your Online Health Channel.

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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