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Garden Centre

Fiona Lawrenson says go for superior shallots instead of ordinary onions - they are nearly ready for picking.

Shallots are probably the easiest of all the onion family to grow and, from my point of view, the tastiest. Shop sold shallots can be expensive to buy and difficult to get hold of. If you grow them yourself you can store them for a considerable time, longer than any other type of onion.

Shallots are ideal for a small plot as they mature quicker and take up less space. They love an open sunny site. They prefer a lighter soil, but can cope with heavier soils as long as they aren't compacted, as this will cause the roots to push the shallot out of the ground. All onions hate any competition from weeds, so make sure you keep it a weed-free zone, or they will turn their toes up!

Shallots are grown from sets (a single shallot bulb). Each set produces a cluster of 7 or 8 shallots. I would make sure you buy your sets from a reputable source that guarantees that they are virus free.

Shallots need a long growing season; in milder areas I would recommend sowing them in December or January and, in colder climes, in February and March.

Plant the sets by pushing them gently into the soft ground, 6" apart, so that their tips are just visible. If you soil is heavy, use a trowel. If you are planting more than one row, space the rows about 8" - 10" apart, so that they don't overcrowd.

Only water shallots in the driest of weather. An old gardener advised me that shallots benefit from a top-dressing of soot, carefully placed around the onions, during their growing season. Don't get the soot on the plant itself.

In late June remove the soil from around the clumps by hand, being careful not to disturb the roots, as this helps the bulbs to ripen in the sun.

To harvest: wait for the leaves to turn yellow and then lift.
Traditionally, onions are left on the surface to dry off in the warm sun and this is still the best way - but if its wet they will rot so bring them indoors, preferably into a greenhouse. Rub off any excess mud and flaky skins, and take off the dried leaves. Now they are ready to store - but do make sure that they are all healthy - throw away any that are spongy and soft. Store them in nets or string bags so that the air can circulate in a cool, frost-free space.

Cook Simply
Shallots are great eaten raw as they have a very subtle flavour, but my favourite way is to simply roast them.

Top and tail the shallots and then remove the outer skin. Leave them whole; place them on a shallow baking tray and drizzle over a mixture of runny honey and olive oil so that they are lightly covered. Add salt and pepper to taste; bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 180c.

The shallots should be caramelised on the outside and are excellent eaten with your Sunday roast.

Best variety: Aristocratic Shallots
This variety has proved to be a winner all over the country as its bulb is of a superb quality and tastes delicious.

Medway’s Vegetable Seed Specialist
Old School Lane
Lanai P.G.
LL61 5RZ Tel/Fax 01248 714851

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