By Sara Malone, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Shallots can be planted in November in Sonoma County – even a bit later if you don’t mind giving up some garden space in the spring, as once you plant them you will have to wait for them to mature before you can reclaim that garden space. Planting is very simple – Shallots are very tolerant and can withstand a wide pH range (from about 5-6.8). Sonoma County has a lot of acid soil, so at least with shallots you do not have to worry about pH. Plant them in full sun in well-drained soil that you have amended or top-dressed with some compost. The looser the soil composition, the larger your shallots will grow. It is important that your soil not be deficient in phosphorus, which it should not be if your soil is not highly weathered or excessively alkaline – rare conditions in Sonoma County. Shallots, like garlic, are a favorite food of gophers, so make sure to use hardware cloth or other wire protection under your bed.
To plant your shallots, separate multiple bulbs and plant each one individually with the root end down. They should be spaced about 6” apart in rows about 10” apart. Plant them so that the tip of the bulb is just level with the top of the soil. Each bulb will form a cluster of about 5-10 bulbs around the original bulb that you plant. Mulch sparingly, as the shallots are not strong enough to push through a thick, heavy layer of mulch. I use a light layer of alfalfa hay, which I augment around the stalks once they have come up. Shallots need good drainage, or the bulbs will rot, so even though they love water, make sure that they dry out in between waterings and that the bed drains well.
Shallots are, in my mind, a good use of garden real estate because they are expensive to buy in the grocery store and they are very easy to grow. You can actually plant the bulbs that you buy in the grocery, but it is not recommended as those bulbs may not be the best cultivar, you don’t know how they have been stored, etc. Shallots are available from local nurseries such as Harmony Farm Supply (which had a good selection of red shallots the last time I was in) or mail order sources such as Peaceful Valley (www.groworganic.com) . Gray Shallots are available from specialty suppliers such as Tesch Family Farms (www.preciousfruit.com).
You can use shallots in cooking in almost any recipe that calls for onions. I add about a half a teaspoon of finely chopped shallots to my salad dressing, which I make when I begin to prepare dinner. The shallots soak in the vinegar and get soft and flavor the dressing with their sweetness. I also like to slice them and toss them with cubes of butternut squash and olive oil, and roast them in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.
©Sonoma County Master Gardeners