YOU NEVER KNOW what will show up on your doorstep here in my rural community. I leave beans and squash in season 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 (all of which apply to other shallots and onions):
- Sow the seed in January or February (assuming a northern location) in a germinating mix like Johnny’s 512 into a 72-cell seedling tray. Many people prefer 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; I don’t.
- 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 in mid-January, “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 also called echalions. For 2013’s garden, I immediately ordered seed from the American version of Thompson & Morgan [2014 update: No seed for sale, except on the T&M British site]. 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. Johnny’s has several shallot varieties from seed (but none are banana types).
Will you join us, or shall we leave some on your doorstep this fall if we have a bumper crop?