Garden Tips - March 2016 - from Gerrie Beck

We love gardening advice from our friend, Paul Parent. The below is from the Paul Parent Garden Club newsletter of February 18th. Written by Paul Parent - Produced by Christine Parent Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved.

All About Shallots...

If you like to cook, then you must plant a row or two of shallots in the vegetable garden this spring. Shallots are a very special member of the onion family; they have the flavor of sweet onions, the zip of garlic, and are easier to grow than both. Next time you go food shopping, look for shallots where you find garlic and onions--and be prepared for a shock when you see the price of these delicacies.

These bulbs are prized by cooks, and if you have never used them when you cook, buy a few this week and use them when you make omelets, sauces, gravies and soups--just to name a few uses for this incredible onion family member. Shallots will keep very well during the winter in your basement, but mine never last long enough to store. So, this week try some when you cook--and you will see why you will need room in your garden this spring when you plant the garden; move over, squash!

Shallots have a great yield; if you plant one pound of bulbs you should expect five to seven pounds of shallots in the fall--if you could only do that with your investments! Plant bulbs rather than seed in the spring. You can find loose bulbs at most garden centers or feed & grain stores right now. What I do is select the medium size bulbs for planting--less than one inch in diameter--and that will give me 25 to 30 bulbs to plant. I also pick out the big fat ones and use those for cooking now, as mine are all gone and at $4.00 a pound, it's cheaper than the supermarket.

Plant your shallots in a full sun location in the garden; they will grow just about anywhere, even in-between other vegetable plants. Shallots do not take much space. I plant them 6 inches apart in rows on the edge of the garden. The bulbs are very hardy and can be planted in your garden during mid-to-late April and will tolerate the cold. I have found that if you use compost when planting the bulbs, they will develop faster and get established before the heat of summer arrives. The onion family loves heat and if the roots are already developed when the heat arrives, the bulbs will grow bigger and--in the case of shallots--develop more and larger bulbs during the summer.

Prepare your soil with compost; your pH should be slightly acidic to neutral--6 to 7 is best. The soil should be well drained and on the sandy side, if possible. If your soils are heavy and you have clay, add extra compost, animal manure, or peat moss to help break up the clay. Run a string from end of the garden to the other if planting in rows to help dig a straight trench about one inch deep.

I add mycorrhizae and sea kelp to the trench and blend together. Plant the bulbs 6 inches apart and just let the tip of each bulb stick out of the soil so you can see it. When you water, you will see the top third of the bulb sticking out of the soil and that is OK. I always plant a double row about twelve inches apart for better use of the garden. Shallots love to grow half out of the ground so do not cover the bulbs if you notice them exposed.

The onion family is vulnerable to weeds because the foliage is small and creates little shade over the garden--so weeds can be a problem. Weed often when you notice them developing or use a garden weed preventer like Miracle-gro weed preventer for the vegetable garden--and follow the directions! You can also use straw or pine needles around the plants to keep out weeds once the green shoots appear. This will also help hold moisture in the soil during the heat of summer and prevent it from drying out.

Shallots are somewhat drought tolerant but weekly watering does help produce more and bigger bulbs from the bulbs you plant this spring, if the weather gets very dry. A moist soil but never wet is the key to better plants. I fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks with compost tea that I make, or you can now purchase compost tea at your local garden center.  You can also use Dynamite every other week. If your soil is heavy, use Soil Logic's liquid gypsum soil conditioner also known as Thrive. This will break up the clay in the soil, improve drainage and help the roots to develop better.

Insect and disease problems are very few with this plant. Keep the weeds away, and add moisture to the plants when they are dry and shallots will grow almost all by themselves. Overwatering is the biggest problem I have found, so be careful or you could rot the roots. In the past, if you have had problems with soil insects called "root maggots" in your onion plantings I have great news for you. There is now a solution that will prevent them from damaging your crop. Bonide Lawn and Garden have a new product called Eight Granules, that is applied to the trench when planting; it will totally eliminate the problem. This is also effective to control wire worms in potatoes, and root maggots on radishes, beets, and all your cold crops like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. If you have a cut worm problem it will do the job quickly but safely.

Harvesting is easy; just pull them out of the ground as soon as the top green foliage has turned brown. If you pull the shallots out of the ground before the foliage dies back, they will not keep as well during the winter months. You can pull bulbs early if you want to use them in cooking, and the green foliage will taste great in any dishes you create.

The foliage will begin to die back in late July to early August so get the bulbs in your garden early this spring to give them time to mature. Pull the whole bulb cluster as one, they will come out easily. Place them in a shady area to dry. Don't break them apart until you're ready to use them. That way, they will keep better and the bulbs are less likely to dry out while in storage.

Store them in a cool dry place like your basement for the winter, and if some begin to sprout use those first or move them to the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator to slow down the sprouting. You can also plant those sprouting bulbs in a small container of soil and grow the bulb on your windowsill during the winter for the great tasting foliage--much better tasting than chives, when used in mashed potatoes.

This is a great tasting vegetable for you to grow in your garden this year. It's easy to grow, it's productive, it keeps well all winter, and the flavor will amaze you. All I want you to do is buy a couple bulbs this week when you food shop and try it, then decide if this bulb vegetable is for you. Just remember shallots have a reputation of elegance and their delicate flavor will make you a better cook. Enjoy!

Written by Paul Parent                         Produced by Christine Parent
Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved.