Q & A: Space-savers for the discerning chef

I don't have a lot of spare space in my garden so I don't really grow many vegetables – a few lettuce and radishes. I would however, like to grow shallots, whose taste I prefer to that of stronger onions. Are they easy to grow and, if so, how should I go about it?

Shallots have become very popular in recent years, possibly because many 'celebrity' chefs have included them in various recipes. But for those in the know, shallots have always been worth their place in the vegetable garden.

They are relatively easy to grow and take up less space than onions, so they are ideal for a small garden or even a large container.

Don't try to grow them from seed unless you have patience and experience; buy bulbs which can be planted in early spring when, hopefully, the soil is starting to warm up a bit. Press them into the soil until only the top half is showing, spacing them at least six inches apart (you should be able to get half-a-dozen bulbs into a big container).

They like a well-drained soil enriched with some well-rotted manure (but not too much).

Occasionally, inquisitive birds will pull up the odd bulb or frost may lift them from the soil; just push them back and they will continue to grow.

Keep the soil between the shallots clear of weeds and water well during very dry spells. In mid-summer, the foliage should start to yellow.

Lift the plants, which will now be made up of clusters of shallots, and spread them out to dry under cover.

A week or so later, split them in to individual bulbs and store them somewhere cool and airy until you need them for the kitchen.

YP MAG 15/1/11