This post contains:
- The difference between Shallots, Onions & Spring Onions
- Growing Onions
- Growing Shallots
- Growing Spring Onions
- Making Crispy Fried Shallots
This (May) is the perfect time of the year to be planting shallots and onions in Melbourne. Spring Onions can be planted all year round. Along with leeks, chives, and garlic they are all members of the Allium Genus of plants, and frankly where would most cuisines be without them? It is thought that onions were first cultivated in ancient Egypt where they were eaten, used in burials and also worshipped as symbolising eternal life (or so says Wikipedia). In the middle ages they were held in such high esteem that people used them to pay their rent. More recently they have been linked with a range of health benefits, although how well substantiated these are is debatable, what cannot be debated however is their role in pretty much all of the worlds great cuisines.
I have to admit I don’t even attempt anything like self sufficiency in onions; to do so would probably involve my devoting most of my garden to their production. I use onions in one form or another most days. Shallots I get much closer to self sufficiency with (but then I use considerably less of them). I am self sufficient in spring onions.
This year I am growing a red onion variety called Red Shine and two types of shallots – a golden variety and a pink skinned variety but as I was given the bulbs I’m not too sure of their names. I also grow a plethora of Spring Onions succession planted throughout the year.
What are the differences between Onions, Shallots and Spring Onions or Scallions?
From Left to Right: Shallots, Spring Onions (also known as Scallions) and a Brown Onion. There are a number of varieties of shallot favoured in both Europe and Asia some are golden and others are pink skinned (with a purpleish flesh), some varieties are round as pictured here and there are more elongated forms. Size can also vary a fair bit. Spring Onions are immature onions (they will often grow a very small bulb if left in for long enough – although this does depend on the variety) which are eaten green as pictured. Onions come in brown, white and red varieties and like shallots they come in both round and elongated forms. Brown varieties tend to have the best keeping qualities.
How to Grow Onions:
Onions are generally grown from seed, although you can of course buy seedlings from nurseries. Onion seed is generally sown in Melbourne in late autumn, early winter with a view to harvesting in late spring – late summer depending on the variety.
Onion varieties are categorised by day-length; ie the hours of daylight in a day needed for the onion to form bulbs. As a result this is a crop you really need to plan for as they need: full sun (or as close to as you have), as well as, daylight for an appropriate number of hours for the variety you are planting, and they are generally going to be in the ground for a very long time. This year I have sown seed of a variety called ‘Red Shine’- we will see how they perform. If you buy seed or seedlings locally you should be sold an appropriate variety but if you are gardening in the sub-tropics/tropics (ie you have less daylight hours in spring/summer than we do in the south) it is a good idea to double check the day length of the variety you are growing.
Onions like alkaline soil so I give my beds a bit of lime before sowing. In general I don’t provide my onions with any additional fertiliser once the seed is sown; this is to ensure they form bulbs rather than lots of leaf growth.
How to grow Shallots:
Shallots are grown from bulbs which are planted so that the top of the bulb is barely covered with soil. These bulbs multiply to create a clump of bulbs. Shallots are harvested when their foliage turns yellow and begins to die. Like Onions they like alkaline soil and I don’t fertilise my shallots once they are in the ground. The bulbs can be planted either direct, or in pots and then grown on and planted out later. If you have the space direct is the best option – less disruption for the plant – but if you are waiting for something else to finish starting them in pots works really well. The above picture shows shallots which were started in pots and are now ready for planting. I plan to plant about 12 bulbs which should produce enough shallots to eat for few weeks/months and to make a decent supply of crispy fried shallot from.
My mum made crispy fried shallots with last years crop. Here they are pictured below, I love eating them just as they are (as do the kids) or use them on top of soups, stir fries, curries etc. To make them you simply slowly fry sliced shallots in a neutral flavoured oil until they are golden brown and then drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool before storing them in an air tight jar.
How to grow Spring Onions:
Spring Onions are grown from seed and need as close as you have to full sun. Spring Onions can happily be planted in Melbourne at any time of the year. I try and sow a line of spring onions whenever I a sowing or planting out other vegetables. To ensure a constant supply you need to sow seed every month or so. Spring Onions are slow to develop in their intial stages and can be frustrating in this respect. They do seem to speed up though when they get a bit bigger. It usually takes a good couple of months from sowing to eating spring onions, however as this is quicker than most other food crops they can be very usefully sown between rows of other veg as they will be gone before the other crop reaches full size. I sow the seeds for the other vegetable their normal recommended distance apart and squeeze a row of Spring Onions between them. For instance a row of spring onions in between your rows of carrots or broccoli can work really well. Leave the mulch off spring onions until they are a reasonable size as the mulch will often smother their delicate stems. I also grow Spring Onions in pots as below.