Onions and Shallots

Site Preparation: The site of where you grow your onions and shallots needs to be well dug over. This should ideally be done in the autumn on heavy soils but can be done as close as 6 weeks before planting out. The soil texture needs to be firm but not compacted and plenty of organic matter should be added in the previous year. A week before planting out add a dose of bonemeal to the growing area to help establish the roots.

Planting Out: The best thing about growing onions and shallots is the use of 'sets'. These are part grown onions/shallots that can be planted straight into the floor. These sets can be grown from the autumn or the spring. Autumn sown sets are very hardy and will collapse and recover in periods of cold weather this is nothing to worry about and will not affect the crop come May. Although the selection is fairly limited what is available is ideal for the kitchen gardener and the range of varieties available is growing. The sets are pushed gently into the soil with the root plate down until just the neck is showing. Within a couple of weeks the green shoot will appear from the top of the bulb. 

Harvesting: When the onions are ready  to be harvested the leaves will start to yellow at the tips and the foliage's vigour will reduce. This is the time to push the foliage over to one side so all the remaining energy can be concentrated on the bulb. When harvesting onions and shallots it is best to use a garden fork to lift the them out of the floor as they have quite a substantial root run which makes lifting by hand very difficult. Onions and shallots should be left to dry somewhere with good airflow (chicken wire shelf or similar) then once completely dry stored in hessian sacks or chopped up and frozen.

Pests and Diseases: the number one problem for onions and shallots is white rot, this problem affects any soil where onions have been grown and will continue to be in the soil for many years to come. Other problems include:
  • Onion Fly - General insecticide
  • Bolting - Reduce stress on plants i.e. no early sowings, water well, resistant varieties
Onion fly larvae damage

Varieties: The following are the varieties i have used with notes on the performance of each one.
  • Red Baron - the only red onion for beginners, good sized bulbs, a little susceptible to bolting, excellent in the kitchen.
  • Sturon - No. 1 set onion very reliable, good in the kitchen, good sized bulbs, store well
  • Hercules - excellent in the kitchen and storage

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