In my new potager, I want to grow everything! However, even with a much larger space than my old Cook’s Garden at the farm, succession planting, and vertical growing, I’m running out of space on my plan! A friend recently suggested growing just a wee bit of each thing, but I want to harvest enough of some crops to can and freeze batches. It is important to grow very colorful crops (see my recent “The Color Purple” post) to combat some of the effects of aging. It is important to grow favorite ingredients that are not available in our very small town grocery. It is wise to grow crops that are expensive in our area, especially if they store well.
That brought shallots to the top of my list. Shallots are members of the Allium (onion) family and contain pro-biotics that promote digestive health, fight atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, stomach cancer, blood clots and Alzheimer’s. I’ve already received seeds for “Ambition” shallots and a huge bag of Dutch shallot bulbs, and was feeling quite smug that I would be able to tuck them here and there throughout the garden to save space. Then, I began reading various articles and blogs on the best way to grow shallots. Imagine my surprise when I read a respected blog that says true French shallots are not ever grown from seed! And, apparently the Dutch Round shallot bulbs I ordered should not only produce embarrassment but will disappointingly have the harsh flavor of a regular onion, rather than a mild, sweet, slightly garlicky shallot. I can’t just brush this off. Let me explain…..
Way back in the 70’s and 80’s, when I lived in southern Indiana on a back-to-the-land homestead, I was fortunate to have as a neighbor and friend, Barbara Wilde. She was a wonderful gardener, often growing crops that I’d never heard of. Our daughters were best friends throughout grade school. My older daughter babysat Barbara’s young son. She was a wonderful cook as well, and even found time to write several gardening books between caring for her children, her extensive garden, and her beloved dairy cow. When she moved away to start a landscape maintenance business in Indy, I hated to see her go. A few years later, she moved to France, where she began writing a beautiful blog,”L’Atelier Vert” (see frenchgardening.com) and establishing gorgeous kitchen gardens in Normandy and Provence, plus living part-time in Paris. Barbara KNOWS plants and she knows gardening, and she knows flavor, so when she describes shallots, I pay attention. To understand my new dilemma, go to her blog, click on “Au Potager” in the left hand menu, scroll down the articles and read her post “The Shallot Wars.”
Next I consulted Penny Woodward’s outstanding book “Garlic and Friends.” If you want to know anything about the Allium family, it’s a great read. She also says that true shallots rarely even flower, and if they do by chance bloom, the flowers are usually sterile. If that is the case, then shallot seeds should be much more expensive than saffron. She lists several varieties of shallot bulbs and sources where they can be obtained easily in the U.S.
After more research, I was reminded that shallots should be kept dry once they near maturity. Duh! I should have thought of that, since they are in the onion family. But it means that it’s not wise to sprinkle them throughout the garden, tucking them here and there as I’d planned, likely near plants that are going to need lots of water in August, when the shallots, garlic, and onions need little or no water to prevent rot as they reach maturity. Get out the eraser; the plan must be revised.
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds does offer French Grey Shallot bulbs ($20.95/lb.), French Red Shallot bulbs ($19.95/lb) and also “Zebrune” shallot seeds (225 seeds/$4.65), which they describe as a French heirloom. Johnny’s has 250 seeds for “Conservor” $7.10/pkt. and “Camelot” $4.95/pkt. I’ve already spent the budget allotted for shallots for this year. Should I start a wish-list for next year’s garden? Should I spring for French Grey bulbs? (I do have some birthday money coming soon) Should I just eat the Dutch Round bulbs when they arrive and give their space to better varieties? What would you do?
The shallots shown above were purchased in a larger, out-of-town store. That little hoard was over $8.00!