The Allotment – Onion and Shallot Planting

Well the weather hasn’t been very good the last few weeks down here in sunny Kent, so it’s been a case of get up to the allotment between bouts of snow, hail, sleet,rain and everything else in-between: I think there was even a day of sunshine, although it came with gale force winds.

A wee while ago I ordered some onion sets from the RHS.

Sets are a quicker way than seed to grow onions, although of course, if it’s easier there’s always a disadvantage; which in this case is, they are prone to whats called ‘bolting’, basically; they start the flowering process.

So whys that bad then? Well onions are ‘Biennial’ plants.With biennial plants the seed is sown in the first year, during which the plant forms shoots and roots. At the end of the first year, the plant goes into a dormant phase. In year two, when regrowth recommences, shoots and roots develop further and eventually produce the flower and seed. Flowers like foxgloves are typical of this, first year lots of leaves, second year the tall flower spike. With onions, a small bulb is produced at the end of the first year.This is ‘harvested’ and sold as the set.

Bolting is triggered by temperature fluctuations after the set has been planted. If an onion plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures, this will result in the plant going dormant, resuming growth, going dormant and then resuming growth again,I wont go into the chemical process but it causes the onion bulbs to flowering (as nature intends) . The risk of bolting though,can be reduced by buying sets that have gone through a process called heat treating, which I’ll write about on another day.

The problem with onions that have bolted is that they can’t be stored – one of the main reasons for growing onions. They are still ok to use but they have to be used straight-away, otherwise they will start the decomposition process, aka rot.

So to the onions.

The first variety is ‘Red Baron‘ , a red variety,with red rimmed flesh and a strong flavour, it’s good for salads and has good storage potential:

The next variety is ‘Sturon’, a traditional variety with a medium sized bulb,a mild flavour and keeps well:

Finally a shallot,’Golden Gourmet’  a very high yielding, Dutch variety , which is good for pickling.

So how to plant.

First rake the soil to produce a level and tilth, then string out a line and use the edge of a hoe to make a shallow trench, which the books will tell you should be 1-2 cm deep, good luck with measuring that. A rough guesstimate will suffice.

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After this, plant the sets. the books will say 9- 22 cm apart, depending on variety but again: don’t get stressed out about this.

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Then cover the sets with soil. Next write out a label with the variety name and date of planting-


and place one at each end of the row.

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This not only names the variety but helps to show where the row is when it come to weeding.







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