Thursday, 1 March 2012

Shallots (Allium cepa var aggregatum)

Shallots (Allium cepa var aggregatum) are perennial bulbs. They can be purchased as seeds but, like onions, are more commonly bought as sets or bulbs. They were probably introduced into Europe by the Crusaders returning from the Middle East. Shallots are easy to grow and are a really useful raw food staple.

Shallots 'Longor' growing in the spring

Growing shallots
There are a limited range of varieties available in bulb form so the more unusual plants must be grown from seed. The traditional date for planting old varieties was the shortest day of the year but most of the modern varieties can be planted out from late January to the end of March. They are traditionally grown in rows roughly 20cm apart. However, they can also be dotted about the garden and grown around the base of shrubs or trees, in flower beds or used as ground cover.

Use a small stick or 'dibber' to make a small hole just big enough to take the bulb and gently push the bulb into the ground (root side down and pointy side up). Press the earth gently around the bulb. Each bulb will grow and divide into five or six new shallots. Be careful when hoeing to avoid damaging the bulb. If they become dry they stop growing so make sure to keep them moist during the growing season.

Shallots 'Longor' in storage

Lifting and storing
The bulbs will be ready to lift from June to August. Once the top foliage starts to go yellow and flop over, they can be allowed to dry out and ripen. They can then be dug up (lifted) and stored. If the ground is very wet and damp all the time, they may start to rot, so keep an eye on them. The soil can be scraped away from the base of the bulbs once they are big enough. This allows the air to circulate and can prevent rot. Lift during a few dry warm sunny days and leave out to dry off properly in the sun. Bulbs can be stored in a cool dry airy place in nets, crates or tied with string and hung up in bunches.

The bulbs in the photograph were lifted last July and have been hanging in a net in a shed ever since. They are a variety called 'Longor' and sold by The Organic Gardening Catalogue. Bulbs can be saved for use the following year so always grow extra.

Raw edible parts
All parts of all Allium species are edible. All parts of all Allium species are probably edible raw although we cannot find a specific reference to this. This is no surprise since there are around 600 difference species. Only around 30 have been used regularly for food and even less have been cultivated. The most important of these being onion, chives, garlic, leeks and shallots.

Having said this, all parts of the shallot appears to be edible raw. The long green leaves can be used like spring onions. The leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads. The bulbs can be used in place of any onion. The bulbs are purportedly milder than the large onions. However, we find they are milder when cooked but not particularly mild when raw. The seeds can be sprouted. Enjoy!


  1. Do you know where I can buy true seeds

  2. If you harvest the greens from shallots, do the bulbs keep growing? I've never seen that answered anywhere.

    1. We have done and they do keep growing. If you overdue the harvesting the bulbs don't do so well though.

    2. Awesome. Thank you for the quick reply. I'll be sure to do mine ASAP.