My first experience cooking with shallots was many years ago, but I still remember the delicate oniony flavor it added to a pot of French onion soup.
It’s that sensory memory of the herb, combined with images of steaming bowls of soup, that’s urging me to plant my own crop of shallots in the vegetable garden this fall.
Shallots are the smaller, tastier members of the onion family. Food historians say shallots originated in the ancient Palestinian city of Ascalon and written descriptions of the “onion” appear as early as 77 A.D. These bulbs share some similarities with onions, such as how they’re grown, and other similarities with garlic because each head has several cloves wrapped in a papery covering.
Shallots can be planted either in spring or fall. Fall plantings are limited to the areas of the country where winters are neither too hot nor too cold. Some experts say fall planting is fine for gardeners in my Zone 5–others say shallots should be a spring-time crop.
It’ll be an interesting experiment to see which experts are right.
I’m planting some of my French shallots in the vegetable bed and some in a more protected flower bed. Because the shallot bulbs grow best in loose soil, I’ll make sure to dig in some compost to give them the best start possible. It’s important to plant shallots in well-drained soil so the bulbs won’t rot.
Planting shallots is a bit different from planting garlic. Shallots are separated into individual bulbs and planted shallower, with the tip level with the soil’s surface. And instead of bulbs forming from a garlic-like clove, shallots will form a cluster of bulbs around each one so they’ll need more room to grow.
Fall-planted shallots should be ready to harvest in early summer. They can also be pulled in spring and enjoyed as green onions. If allowed to mature completely, they’ll need time to dry before storing. I’m hoping my fall-planting experiment is a success, so I can enjoy a bowl of homemade French onion soup early next fall.
(Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply provided one-pound of shallots for my fall planting project.)
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