a whopper! the seed-grown banana shallot

banana shallot or echalionYOU 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?

  1. Joanna says:

    I grew banana shallots last year, here in Latvia. We have a short but intense season and I didn’t start mine off until April. They still grew well in a year which was indifferent to say the least, wet and dull. Mine also are still surviving well and I have kept some back to plant for seeds. I was just a tad disappointed that they didn’t grow sets but they worked well in our short season and so I can’t complain.

    I got mine from another Uk company called MoreVeg as they sell small packets for little money, which at least means you get to try lots of different things without blowing the budget. Not sure if they send to America or not though.

  2. Cary says:

    Just ordered mine! Although if you wanted to come and leave some on the doorstep, I’d be happy to see you! Margaret, thanks for sharing this terrific shallot and source. Thanks too to your terrific researching neighbor!

  3. Deb says:

    How exciting to see my banana shallot in print! It would be my very great honor to pinch hit on A Way to Garden again.



    1. margaret says:

      You are hired, Deb. So excited about learning more of the oddball goodies you grow up there in the higher altitude (a.k.a. “next door,” which is a mile straight uphill!).

  4. kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    Yum! I would love to grow these. Maybe next year when I have a better seed starting set up (since I am in the Northeast). I will keep them on my wish list of things to try!

  5. Elizabeth L. says:

    A question about plant rotation: What do you plant in the shallot site the following year? I’ve been keeping my Allium family separated from other plants in my raised beds as I discovered that some vegetables did not grow as well.

  6. Dahlink says:

    Love this! My sister calls shallots my “signature ingredient.” I don’t have room to grow much more than herbs for the table, but would love to see some land on my porch!

    I am enjoying your new book, Margaret–savoring it in small bites so I won’t get to the last page too quickly!

  7. Sharon says:

    Margaret and Deb, unless I blinked, you never discussed the flavor of your banana shallots. Care to comment? I’d love to hear.

  8. Deb says:

    Elizabeth L. – I usually plant a nitrogen fixing crop where the onions had been — peas, string beans or soybeans.

    Sharon – they are as as sweet and mild and lovely as any shallot I ever ate! I love to use them in soup or stir fries.

    Meryl – they are now available from Thompson and Morgan’s US website.

  9. Ann Marie says:

    I have to admit I’d never heard of banana shallots. Now I’m intrigued! I may have to find a corner for them in my garden this year…

  10. Lisa B. says:

    Just found another source for banana shallots…..Seed Savers Exchange has a variety they call “Zebrune”, which they describe a “Heritage shallot from France where it is called Cuisse de Poulet de Poitou, which translates ‘a leg of the chicken.” Hope this helps!

    Mine are on order…..

  11. Deb says:

    Hi Lisa B. – I saw that listing in the SSE catalog last year for the first time, but from its description (which was different last year) did not think it was a banana shallot…rather, a variety of French shallot. HOWEVER, I see now that the product description has been amended and does describe it as an Eschalion, or banana shallot. I’m pretty sure it did not include that description when I first saw the item last year. But bottom line, HOORAY FOR SSE! They are my top five seed source!

  12. Cheryl Long says:

    If as you say the flavor really is as good as other smaller shallots, then the size of these bananas should make peeling much easier than with the smaller types–worth the effort of starting from seed, IMO.

    1. margaret says:

      It’s a good flavor, Cheryl, and if well-grown they can get crazy big…which as you say reduces all that peeling. Welcome, and thanks for saying hello.

  13. CB says:

    Ooooh! Thanks so much for this article. I can’t wait to find and start the seeds. I hope we will see a follow-up post in autumn so people can comment on how their crop did.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful research and information.

  14. Helga G says:

    Will try them next year. I just got my order from Baker Creek.They also have Zebrune Shallot seeds. Most of the time my eyes are way bigger, than my couple of raised garden beds and I order to many seeds.
    Just looking out at it snowing again. I am in South Jersey about 20 miles from the shore. Darn that Groundhog :-)

  15. Just to make you jealous I live in the Maritime Pacific NW where the normal winter temperature is 40 at night and 60 in the day, happy weather for alliums.
    I like to eat the green tops and I have top multipliers some time cald walking onions because when the flowering top falls over the bulblets start a pace from the original. I do a lot of my gardening in barrels and when I walk by and see some bulblets ready I pluck them and stick them in the edge of the next barrel. Therefore the barrels I brought into the green house to over winter have produced green tops for me except for the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January.

  16. Alison says:

    It might be verboten for some reason, but I’ve been giving shallots a bit of a roll with my palm against the countertop to loosen the skin. Sometimes I even give it a good hard press just like you can do with garlic cloves to encourage the skin to pop off. It works just the same way and cuts way down on all the picking and rubbing that make shallot peeling so un-fun.

  17. Tina says:

    I was inspired by earlier discussion about growing shallots from seed and am giving ‘Conservor’, from Johnny’s, a whirl for 2014. Will be starting them along with ‘Patterson’ onion and leeks within days. I always start my Alliums in narrow, rectangular window box planters readily available from almost any retailer. The plastic planters are deep and allow for substantial root growth. And I reuse them, year after year. After the longest, coldest winter in years here in central Michigan, zone 5b, it’s time to get gardening!

  18. Vanessa M. says:

    I’ve never grown shallots and as it seems that every single recipe I encounter calls for them, decided this year to give them a try. I just received my Zebrune seeds from Baker Creek yesterday and came online this morning in search of how to grow them. I’m thrilled to have happened upon this lovely site. Thank you Deb and Margaret.

  19. Ive Anderson says:

    I loved shallots, but I live in zone RED, so I had to re-invent the way to cultivate them. And I loved tge articke. Thanks for the travel!

  20. Loretta Januska says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Any chance you found a source for seeds for Figaro shallots? Thomson Morgan no longer ship to America. They sell seed to Gurneys but Gurneys do not sell the seed. Zebrune seeds don’t sound promising, but I may be wrong. Any help would be appreciated.

    Loretta Januska

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.