Leeks and shallots are easy to grow. They are the subtle, refined-flavor alternatives to bulb onions and garlic.
- In mild winter regions, plant leeks and shallots in late autumn or winter.
- In cool–but not cold–winter regions plant leeks and shallots in late summer and autumn for spring harvest. Plant them again in spring for fall or winter harvest.
- In cold winter regions plant leeks and shallots in the garden three weeks before the last spring frost or later.
Sets or seedlings are the easiest way to get leeks and shallots growing in the garden.
If starting from seed, sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before you want to set seedlings into the garden. Sow seeds in trays filled with seed starting mix. Set seed starting trays under fluorescent shop lights or in a sunny window. Keep the starting mix just moist; do not let it dry out. Seedlings can go into the garden just before the last frost when they are about 4 inches tall.
Grow leeks and shallots in loose, well composted soil, but be sure the soil is not too rich in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen is good for green leafy growth but can rob flavor from leeks and shallots.
The soft roots of leeks and shallots do not like compacted soil. Turn the soil at least 6 to 8 inches deep with a garden fork before setting out transplants. If the soil is heavy clay or filled with pebbles and stones, plant leeks and shallots in raised beds.
Leek Growing Tips: Set leek seedlings in a trench 4 to 6 inches deep. Set leeks seedlings 6 inches apart or closer if you plan to harvest them young. (You can set them closer if you plan to harvest some early and let others mature.) Trim off the top inch of leafy growth at transplanting time to encourage new growth.
Backfill the trench as the plants grow tall keeping the developing base of the plant just covered. Pushing loose soil up around the base of the plant will keep that stalks white and tender; this process is called blanching.
Transplant leek seedlings about 6 inches apart. Be sure to keep the planting bed weed free for at least 6 weeks. Young alliums no match for weeds. Keep planting beds consistently moist. Mulch with compost if soil moisture evaporation is a problem.
Feed growing leeks dilute fish emulsion once a month until just before harvest.
Leeks require 75 to 130 days from sowing to harvest depending upon the variety. Leeks can be harvested at just about stage of growth though as a rule they will be most flavorful when young and tender and about ½ inch round or later when the shanks have grown thick and round. Two outstanding varieties are King Richard and Lincoln.
You can protect leeks from freezing weather by mounding up mulch around them. Leeks can stay in the garden until you need them in the kitchen. But if temperatures threaten to drop below the teens, pull them up and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator where they will keep for several weeks.
Sauté leeks in butter or add them to soups and stews. Young leeks can be braised or grilled or chopped and added to salads.
Shallots Growing Tips: Grow shallots from small bulbs called sets or from seeds. Space plants 2 inches apart to produce single bulbs, 6 inches apart to produce multiple bulbs from each plant. Leave the tip of each bulb protruding just above soil level. Protect shallot bulbs from birds by laying bird netting over the planting bed.
Start shallots from seed just as you would leeks in seed sowing trays indoors. Sow seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden or sow in the garden as soon as the soil is workable in spring.
If you want to use shallots like green onions, sow seeds 2-3 inches apart and harvest the green tops as needed.
Harvest shallots when the top three-quarters of the leafy growth dries and falls over. Cure the bulbs in a dry, warm place until the tops are completely dry. Space curing bulbs apart in a well ventilated place so that rot does not set in. Shallots are cured when the tops are papery and crisp.
Shallots can be sautéed, braised, grilled, or stir-fried. Shallots are the mild-flavored alternative to garlic.
Recommended Leek Varieties:
- American Flag: 120-130 days to harvest; tall, blue-gray leaves, white shanks, sweet oniony flavor; cold hardy; overwinters well in mild winter regions.
- King Richard: 75 days to harvest; long, slender shanks; less cold hardy; buttery when harvested young; good choice in short-season regions.
- Lincoln: 50-100 days to harvest; long shanks, pale green leaves; mild flavor.
Recommended Shallot Varieties:
- Ambition: 100 days to harvest; red skin with purple flesh, globe shape; easy to grow from seed.
- French Gray: 100 days to harvest; pear-shaped bulb, grayish-blue skin with purple flesh; subtle flavor; does not store well—eat fresh.
- Matador: 90 days to harvest; round (French type), red-brown skin with reddish flesh; blot resistant and is long storing.