shallotsI think it may be a sign of the times that being unable to discover the answer to a question through a Google search, is a cause for great excitement. But this was the case for me not long ago. The big question in our house has always been: "How do you grow really large shallots?" Are they produced by planting large bulbs or small bulbs – or is it nothing to do with that and more related to seasonal conditions or soil type or nutrition? In an effort to find the answer prior to planting time, I dived onto Google. I was still there several hours later! It seemed that every man and his dog were asking the same question but no one could supply the answer.

I became more and more infuriated that the internet – yes, the mighty INTERNET – could not tell me what I so badly needed to know. (I suspect such frustration is also a sign of the times!) While trying to locate a commercial shallot-grower in New Zealand to help with my inquiry (Google could not help me there, either!) I stumbled upon the UK Shallot Growers' Association. Its name had such a lovely, solid, British ring to it that I immediately emailed them. To my astonishment, providing a very satisfactory, scientific, well worded answer was no problem at all. In fact they put me onto Paul Cripsey, a UK shallot grower who knew exactly what he was talking about. This was his reply to me:

Shallots are produced in 2 ways: from true seed, and from vegetative production (i.e. plant a mother bulb in order to produce several new shallots). When planting shallots, it is always difficult to know the size of the resulting crop, but as a general rule shallots have a certain number of growing centres per kilo of bulb. Each growing centre will produce a new shallot so this means that if you plant a large shallot mother bulb it will produce many young shallots (which are usually small). If you plant a very small mother shallot it will produce fewer young shallots but these will be larger. So, in a very roundabout way, if you require large shallots, plant the smallest mother bulbs you can purchase.

The upshot for me, is that I have now planted large mother shallots to produce new, small bulbs for replanting the following season. And I have planted small mother shallots to produce large bulbs for winter storage and use in the kitchen. Now, of course, I'm wondering if I should give up gardening altogether and begin a 'Shallot Blog' instead!

PS: if you're thinking of applying the shallot rule to garlic, think again. Where garlic is concerned, the larger the clove you plant, the larger the cloves you'll be harvesting.

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