Author Topic: A diverse patch of shallots  (Read 400 times)

Steph S

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 54
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
A diverse patch of shallots
« on: 2019-11-13, 04:31:52 PM »
I have a lot of questions about shallots, not just genetics but also cultural practices, so all and every advice will be appreciated.
Two years ago I received a pack of about 100 seeds from someone's shallots that had bolted, in our (Nicky's) annual Canadian swap.  I started them in February and planted out in May about 4" apart.   Spring was looking okay until we had two weeks of winter in June (snow on ground and daytime highs below freezing).  About 20-25% of the shallots did not survive.  None bolted (perhaps all too juvenile).  The survivors all divided into clumps, but they did not form any bulbs before the end of season.  I thought they were goners.
When the next spring came around I was lamenting their demise to a friend when much to my surprise we found the green tendrils spiking up through their self-mulching leaves.  In late spring I transplanted some of them to give a more even spacing to the survivors in the same bed.  By midsummer they were all putting out flower buds.   It was only in this second year of growth that the diversity of the 73 individuals became obvious.  Variable traits included bud size and color (red purple, dark purple, pale purple, shades of brown to pale tan) earliness of flowering (although most began to flower within a week or so of midsummer), plant height (25 to 55 cm), clump size, leaf color (dark blue-green to medium green and a couple of lime green outliers) color at the base of the stem (yellow, red, shades in between, none).   There also appeared to be initiation of bulbing at variable time - I mean the spreading of shoots beginning to curve outwards around a central gap.   This did not turn into actual bulbing, unfortunately.  I was too engaged in the whole flowering diversity thing to do any selection or try to get bulbs by nipping buds.   :-[  It seemed too fortuitous to have this grand patch of flowers for the bumblebee queens, at a time when there isn't much else in the garden.  :-*  So the main event was the flowers (pretty awesome) and of course the seeds.  I saved all the seeds, partly in fear of a "feral shallot" thing - I would rather plant them where I want them than have them popping up at random.  Since I had data on plant height, I made up batches of seed in three height groups 30 cm or less, 30-40+ cm, and 45 cm or taller, and shared back to Nicky's swap - I just heard from her that all 30 packs were spoken for by the time my package arrived, so there are 30 gardeners across Canada who may select their own shallot from 200+ seed packs, and I still have lots of seed.
I am also expecting that the plants in the original shallot patch will survive the winter as they did before, and will want to flower whether I decide to let them or not.
It occurred to me that if we had a reliable method of producing shallots from seeds here, it would be very convenient to have a patch that produces seed every year for the purpose, and never worry about an "onion crisis" - onion is totally a staple food for us.
I've done some searching online, and discovered that I originally planted them too far apart.  Spacing at 1-2 " with the goal of producing one bulb per seed is recommended at Cornell and at a British allotment site - wider spacing and they will divide as mine did instead of bulbing.  Spacing of true seed shallots in an Indonesian study was tested at 100 and 150 plants per square meter.  Obviously much tighter than my first try.   There is also the possibility of growing sets for the following year, at even higher density.
There is another possibility, assuming that they do survive as expected, to dig and divide the clumps that have established, or take a few, and replant them in a suitable spacing and location for bulbing.
My general thought was to dig and move/distribute the small plants 30 cm or less and those with unusual flower/bud traits in spring, for use in ornamental flower borders.  And keep the larger plants together that may produce bigger bulbs.  But I don't actually know if there is a correlation between plant height and bulb size.
I also don't know if the color traits will be correlated in any way with bulb traits.   All of the flowers were shades of mauve when fully opened which in onions would be a red bulb afaik.    The outliers were lighter pink or darker purple, with the most unusual (two plants) having only partial flowers much paler in color and only one of them produced a few seeds.
So I would be very grateful if anyone with shallot experience would tell me whatever you know or have learned about them.
We do have a really short and cool season here, and I know they respond well to heat by bulbing - I don't know how much of a problem that might be.   The only thing I know for sure is that we can get them to produce seeds.  :o

Ferdzy

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 90
  • Karma: 12
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #1 on: 2019-11-13, 06:40:02 PM »
I've been interested in shallots for a few years but have not made much progress with them as we have too many other onions we are trying to save seeds from. However, in  2012 I had some red shallots I had purchased at Costco (so an unknown hybrid) cross with some Zebrune aka Cuisse de Poulet aka Banana shallots. I have been growing out the seed ever since. I get red and white bulbs, with more or less tendency to split. I prefer the red ones, and have started to leave them in the flat long enough to tell which will be which, and select for red when I plant them out.

The other way they tend to vary is that some of them die down in the fall and store well over the winter. Others stay green until it snows, then are up early in the spring.  At first these annoyed me but I quickly realized that early spring shallot greens are terrific. I have one plant in particular that I've been hanging onto for a couple of years now, although it almost got destroyed by rabbits this summer. It is up very early and splits a lot. I am going to try to put some in a pot far enough away from other onions this year and see what happens, seed-wise.

I bought some shallots de Ste Anne (a Quebec heirloom) this summer and planted them this fall. They have sprouted, but are currently under snow. We'll see what they look like in the spring. If they produce seed it will be rarely, as I understand it. I would like to get my hands on some classic French shallots (which produce no seed) to use as a comparison but they are scarce as hens' teeth since the hybrids took over. I spent a fortune buying them from Richter's and they turned out to be very unconvincing modern hybrids of some sort.

https://www.lasocietedesplantes.com/produits/echalote-de-ste-anne/

I did save some seed from shallots this year but I still have to clean it and see what I have.


Steph S

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 54
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #2 on: 2019-11-13, 07:45:32 PM »
The St. Anne's look nice!   One of my friends tried several types of shallots from Richters, and we had one from William Dam as well, but none of them had good survival here from fall planted bulbs.
I tried the green shallots late in the season and found them tasty but pretty tough.  I will have to try the spring greens.  Do you ever get bulbs from the ones that overwinter as a clump?   I'm wondering if I might get bulbs by separating and planting them out in spring.

whwoz

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 27
  • Karma: 3
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #3 on: 2019-11-14, 01:41:43 AM »
Steph, have you checked out Kelly Winterton's work with multiplier onions?  it was done with potato onions, which are the same subspecies of onion as shallots and may provide some tips for your ongoing efforts

reed

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 445
  • Karma: 28
  • Narrow Ridge above the Ohio River zone 6a
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #4 on: 2019-11-14, 02:11:21 AM »
I haven't had good luck with shallots, they get infested with those little white worms.  I do have a patch of the multiplier onions that the worms don't seem to bother. The bulbs are small but they taste great and grow year round except when it's very hot and dry. They came from landrace seed trades and I had a lot more at first. Some were taken out by extreme cold without snow cover and some by extreme hot dry.

Still a good amount left, I hope to get a lot of seed from them this coming year.

Steph S

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 54
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #5 on: 2019-11-14, 05:06:20 AM »
Steph, have you checked out Kelly Winterton's work with multiplier onions?  it was done with potato onions, which are the same subspecies of onion as shallots and may provide some tips for your ongoing efforts
Thanks,  I will google that and see what I can find.   I really don't know anything much about genetics in the A cepa or aggregatum.  I was surprised to read in another thread here, that they cross fairly easily with A fistulosum.   I do have two types of perennial green onion in my garden which flowered at the same time as the shallots.  But I guess since there were only 2-3 flowers on them vs the hundreds of shallots, the proportion of crosses in the shallot seed would be low if they did occur.
If I can't figure out a way to get bulbs for storage from these, I will be very disappointed.
Of course if they all end up in the flower border, the bees will be delighted.  ::)

Steph S

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 54
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #6 on: 2019-11-14, 05:09:47 AM »
Quickly found and just going to post the link here - looks like a great read!    :)
https://sites.google.com/site/kellysgarden/potato-onions

Steph S

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 54
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #7 on: 2019-11-14, 05:44:23 AM »
I haven't had good luck with shallots, they get infested with those little white worms.  I do have a patch of the multiplier onions that the worms don't seem to bother. The bulbs are small but they taste great and grow year round except when it's very hot and dry. They came from landrace seed trades and I had a lot more at first. Some were taken out by extreme cold without snow cover and some by extreme hot dry.

Still a good amount left, I hope to get a lot of seed from them this coming year.

Hi Reed.  I was a bit worried about growing more and more alliums - I have a lot of garlic happening here - but my farmer friend says she's never seen onion maggot on her crops.  Possibly we just don't get them here.  Fingers crossed.
If I have a lot of trouble getting bulbs from these shallots, crossing to some kind of bulb onion would be the next option, and then try to get a multiplier to go perennial and produce seed which I can get bulbs from reliably.
I'm thinking about what Ferdzy observed, and it seems that the tendency to go green instead of bulbing may be genetic.   That doesn't bode well for my patch which totally failed to bulb, but for now I have to cling to the hope that environment is playing a part in that as well.  And also hope that I can tweak the environment well enough to get some bulbs in this short season.    I do think the soil in that patch must be quite compacted after two years, so it might make a difference to transplant some singles into something warmer light and fluffy.  I will experiment with some different spacings from seed and see if that helps, too, to suppress the mad multiplying and push towards bulbing instead.

Diane Whitehead

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 111
  • Karma: 21
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #8 on: 2019-11-14, 09:41:04 AM »

 I would like to get my hands on some classic French shallots (which produce no seed) to use as a comparison but they are scarce as hens' teeth since the hybrids took over. I spent a fortune buying them from Richter's and they turned out to be very unconvincing modern hybrids of some sort.

I'm growing ones I bought from Richter's.  You say they aren't really French Gray?  How can you tell?

Diane
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
cool mediterranean climate  warm dry summers, mild wet winters,  70 cm rain,   sandy soil

Ferdzy

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 90
  • Karma: 12
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #9 on: 2019-11-14, 10:00:08 AM »
They were large and roundish, pale yellow fleshed and flowered profusely. They failed to split. I haven't seen the real McCoy in over a decade, which makes it hard for me to be too precise, but they just completely were not what I was expecting to see. (Classic form, purplish hue to flesh, no seeds).

Diane Whitehead

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 111
  • Karma: 21
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #10 on: 2019-11-14, 10:35:19 AM »
Mine are clusters of small, narrow pale brown bulbs.  They are purple under the brown skin.  Does that sound right?  Shall I send you some?
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
cool mediterranean climate  warm dry summers, mild wet winters,  70 cm rain,   sandy soil

Ferdzy

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 90
  • Karma: 12
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #11 on: 2019-11-14, 10:42:09 AM »
Diane, that sounds much more like what I was expecting. I would love it if you could send me a few.

Ferdzy

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 90
  • Karma: 12
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #12 on: 2019-11-14, 10:47:46 AM »
Steph, environment does play a part I'm pretty sure. We had a strange summer here - it started off slow, cool, and very wet. It got a bit dry in the middle (as it almost always does) but in spite of nice sunny and reasonably warm days we never really seemed to get any critical mass of heat. A lot of things did not do well. I didn't have that many saved shallots from the year before but I did think they were not behaving exactly as they had in previous years. Onions in general seemed to have *a lot* of trouble dying down at the end of the season.

Steph S

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 54
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #13 on: 2019-11-14, 03:07:07 PM »
I suspect that onions can be fickle here in Newfoundland as well - I know they are often harvested quite late..  but I am not a seasoned onion grower myself by any means.   
If I did look for a cross with a bulb onion, it would have to be something especially early and reliable,  if such a thing exists.
Other shallot growers have commented that they tend to be later than onions, so that is another question to answer.. do we even have time for them to mature?
I wonder if the techniques used when growing onion sets would be helpful.   Cutting out watering early enough for them to be stressed - well that might not work if (as usual here) it turns rainy in August.   Lifting them with a fork (but leaving in the ground) to encourage them to start to dry down is another technique that might help.   
I also think they want the warmest and sunniest available spot.  Right now they're in my worst frost pocket, and it's impressive that they even survived.  :-[

Doro

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 102
  • Karma: 17
  • Värmland, Sweden
    • View Profile
Re: A diverse patch of shallots
« Reply #14 on: 2019-11-17, 04:12:09 AM »
I'm growing potato onions. Potatislök is exactly the name we use in Sweden for the round type of shallots. I like them a lot, because little onion seedlings end up as bird food too often, but they are not interested in shallots.
They do not survive my winters though. I have to keep them indoors and set them in spring. Usually I have a few large braids of them for decoration. Anything that shows signs of turning soft is eaten and the leftover firm ones get planted end of April or May.
I tried anything to have them flower. I was hoping to cross them with my hardy spring onions, those have gotten better in surviving winters over the past years. If I can cross them I might find a shallot type that survives winter. But the shallots/potato onions just refuse to flower for me. Not sure if it is the variety or something else like photoperiod, temperatures or the short season. I even started some indoors in winter, and planted outside as well as in the greenhouse during growing season. They all divided and bulbed up without flowering. Sigh. I will try to get my hands on other varieties to see if they can be convinced to flower.
My potato onions are always the first ones to flop over and are ready for harvest in early July. The yellow onions that I start from seed in February are ready in August