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How to grow onions and shallots

Onions and shallots are a staple of many of our favourite dishes and make a great low maintenance crop – particularly if you’re new to growing your own vegetables. By simply slotting them in rows between your other crops and watering occasionally, you can have a constant supply for whatever you’re cooking, and they’ll taste much better than shop-bought ones, too.

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Shopping List

  • Your choice of onions or shallots
  • Vegetable growing compost
  • Granular fertiliser
  • Garden trowel
  • Garden hoe
  • Garden gloves
  • Watering can
  • Fleece or netting (as needed)

When to Plant and Harvest Onions and Shallots

When to Sow Onions and Shallots

If you are sowing onions and shallots from seed, they can be directly sown into the ground from early to mid-spring.

When to Plant Onion and Shallot Sets

When it comes to planting your onion and shallot sets, there are two ideal times throughout the year. If you’re wondering when to plant onion sets, this is best between March-April, or again in September-October. If you need to know when to plant shallot sets however, this will be the January-March window, or November-December.

When to Harvest Onions and Shallots

You’ll know that your onions and shallots are ready to harvest when the leaves begin to turn yellow, usually from mid-to-late summer.

Top tip: One thing to remember is that depending on where you are in the country, these times will be slightly different. In areas with milder weather, the timescales may be a little earlier, and for those with harsher weather, it could be a little later.

Step by Step Guide: How to Plant Onion and Shallot Sets

1. Whether you want to know how to plant shallots or are looking to plant onions, the process will be almost the same. There are some very slight differences, which we will explain throughout.

2. Prepare the soil before you plant by raking in a good quality granular fertiliser or some well-rotted farmyard manure.

3. In rows 12 inches/30cm apart, push each bulb - also known as a set - into the soil with the growing tip (that is, the tip of the bulb) still visible above ground. Within each row, place the onion and shallot sets in a neat line.

4. Cover newly planted bulbs with fleece or netting to protect them from birds.

5. Sit back and watch your onions and shallots grow. Water as needed when the weather is dry, and use a garden hoe to keep weeds at bay.

6. When harvesting, lift gently with a garden fork, shaking off the soil. Leave out in the sunshine to dry before storing in a cool place.

The Specifics

  • How far apart to plant onions: In each row, space onion sets 4 inches/10cm apart.
  • How far apart to plant shallots: Space shallot sets a little wider at 6 inches/15cm apart.
  • How deep to plant onions and shallots: There is no precise depth required, but as you push your onion or shallot bulb in, make sure that the growing tip is still visible above ground.

Top tip: Once you have harvested your onions and shallots, they will keep for several months as long as you store them in a cool, dry place.

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Know Your Onions and Shallots

Onion Centurion

A popular classic with a good flavour, this strong growing variety produces a heavy, early maturing crop which is straw yellow in colour.

Onion Red Baron

Highly recommended for its exceptional flavour, the ‘Red Baron’ gets more popular every year. Suitable for planting early in the season, it has an attractive skin colour ideal for use in salads.

Shallot Golden Gourmet

The ‘Golden Gourmet’ is known for its gorgeous flavour. Each shallot set matures into a cluster of tasty shallots for a bumper crop, no matter the size of your space.