Shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) are often thought of as onion's little cousins. Shallots are simple to grow -- if you can grow onions, you can grow shallots. The firm bulbs have a delicate taste and aroma, making them a subtle choice for sauces, soups and sautes. Just like onions, the plants grow from bulbs or seeds, and need a long period of warm weather to mature.
Like onions, shallots can be grown from seed, from sets or from transplants started indoors. Sets work well for beginners because they mature quickly and reliably. To plant sets, break apart the clusters and plant individual bulbs 1 inch deep and spaced 6 inches apart. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep and spaced 2 to 4 inches apart. Transplants can be set out 6 inches apart. Shallots can be planted from sets in fall if you mulch the soil and water during dry periods. Otherwise, plant shallot seeds and sets in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked.
Shallots are versatile vegetables because you can harvest them at various stages of maturity. Pull them when they stand 6 inches tall for green onions, or allow them to mature and develop bulbs. They're completely mature when most of the greens have turned brown. How long this process takes depends on when you planted them and your climate. Fall-planted bulbs mature in early spring to summer, while spring-planted bulbs can be harvested by early fall. Shallots planted from seed in spring usually need from 95 to 110 days to mature.
Shallots form bunches of bulbs with corresponding clusters of foliage above ground. In optimal conditions, they can reach 3 feet tall or more, although most shallots grow only 1 to 2 feet tall. Their spread reaches from 6 inches to 1 foot.
Shallots are similar to onions in their growing needs. They grow best with full sun, rich, loam soil and consistently moist conditions. Before planting shallots, add 1 to 2 inches of compost to the soil and till to a depth of 8 inches. At the same time, dig in 1 pound of 16-16-8 granular fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden space. Once shallots begin to grow, they may need additional fertilizer in early summer. Spread 1/2 pound of 21-0-0 granular fertilizer or blood meal in a row about 4 inches from the shallots and till it in shallowly.