YOU NEVER KNOW what will show up on your doorstep here in my rural community. I leave beans and squash for Jane down the road; Robin leaves me things pertaining to our common pursuit of mice that invade our very old stone foundations. (Her last “gift” was pecan-flavored “trappers’ paste,” I kid you not). My other neighbor’s dog–or so the card signed with a pawprint said–left me chocolate once, in a gift bag hung on my gate. But Deb, up the hill, outdoes us all. Deb leaves dirigibles. You know: like the Hindenburg—but of shallots, that is. “What in the world is that?” I asked in my email reply after the hefty thing had landed (pictured above, with two good-sized onions and a coffee cup for scale). And Deb emailed back thus:
“It’s a banana shallot,” she wrote. “I first saw banana shallots, also known as chef’s shallots, on one of Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the thing–it is enormous, as big as a good size yellow onion and in truth, bigger than some bananas! I love shallots (the onion’s sweeter sister) and have grown the traditional variety for years from sets (or bulb-lets). The possibility of growing this new variety thrilled me so I set out to learn more and to find a source for sets or seeds.”
Thanks to Google, Deb says, it took her “about three minutes to track down the seed from Thompson & Morgan’s British site,” where she learned that her score–labeled as the variety ‘Figaro,’ was not a true shallot, but a cross between an onion and a shallot.
But she only had growing instructions for the UK, since that’s where she got the seeds. “I didn’t know how that would translate to seed-starting in the Northeast, so I decided to try starting seeds in January (like an onion) and in March (like a shallot). In all other growing respects, I treated the seedlings like onions. I can report that both groups did extremely well, but not surprisingly, the January group were bigger at harvest than the March group. Both are storing extremely well as of mid-January.”
How she recommends growing the banana shallot, in brief:
- Sow the seed this month (assuming a northern location) in a germinating mix like Johnny’s 512 into a 72-cell seedling tray. Many people use an undivided flat, though roots may get entangled.
- Keep warm and moist for a few days till germination occurs.
- Move the trays under fluorescent lights for 16 hours a day.
- Some gardeners clip the tops of onions and related seedlings to about 5 inches tall, to promote more root growth.
- Harden off seedlings in early April for a week or two, then transplant outdoors, spacing 4-6 inches apart in the row with rows 12-18 inches apart.
“I have always transplanted onions in whatever part of my garden grew cucumbers in the previous year,” Deb added, and then: “Is this an old wives’ tale? Don’t know but the onions seem happy that way.” (I love this idea. Never heard it before, Deb, but I positively love it.)
Once outdoors, my neighbor says, keep the transplants weed-free and well-watered, and grow on until the tops begin to die down, probably in early fall, then cure well as with onions in a dry, airy environment before storing.
“I will start my banana shallots next week,” Deb wrote this week, “and I also plan to sequester a group for seed saving this year.” She has even greater ambitions!
I’m thinking we need to hire Deb here at A Way to Garden as our relief pitcher—and that we all need to grow banana shallots, which are called echalions as well. My seeds are already on order from the American version of Thompson & Morgan, which has them here. (A reader notes that Seed Savers Exchange has a French variety called ‘Zebrune,’ but of course I don’t know–yet–how it will compare size-wise to Deb’s test-driven T&M version.) Will you join us, or shall we leave some on your doorstep this fall if we have a bumper crop?