Shallots & Leeks: Lesser Known Onion Cousins

Shallots & Leeks: Lesser Known Onion Cousins

They're a big family, those alliums.

From the familiar onions and softneck garlics, to the less famous but intriguing shallots, leeks, and hardneck garlics. Some gardeners even use alliums just for their flowers, like Allium giganteum with 3 foot stems and purple flower heads the size of softballs.

Gardeners agree that for superior flavor in onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks there is no substitute for growing your own. They are easy crops, planted in fall and growing until mid-summer harvest.

For the scoop on different kinds of garlic, and how to plant them, check out our video "How to Grow Garlic" or "Growing Onions, Leeks, & Shallots." Which leads to the questions: What is a shallot? And what are leeks?

What exactly is a Shallot or a Leek?

Harvested Shallots

Shallots

Shallots (allium cepa) are small, paper covered bulbs that are about half the size of an onion, rather than cloves like garlic. They are planted in the fall unless you live in a very cold area, then wait until spring. These plants have papery skin and grow in clusters. Growing shallots is great for beginners, since they tolerate a wide range of soils.

Their delicate flavor is described as combining a sweet onion with a hint of garlic. Shallots are often an ingredient in many French recipes. Some grow them simply for the convenience of keeping a small version of an onion on hand. They're great for those nights you want to use about half an onion in cooking a dish and don't want to worry about wasting the leftovers. Shallots are used in everything from red wine salad dressings to pasta dishes.

Try our French Red Organic Shallots. Bonus: you'll be able to use shallots in cooking without breaking the bank.

Harvested Leeks

Leeks

Leeks look like large versions of green onions or scallions. If you are growing leeks, they are best planted in loose soil. Fall is the optimum time to plant leeks in mild climates. Harvest leeks all through the winter and into the following spring.

Even milder and sweeter than shallots, their flavor makes them prized ingredients in stews, stir-fries, and soups. Potato Leek Soup anyone? You can also braise or grill them on their own as a side dish.

Try growing leeks from seed with our Organic Varna Leek Seeds or our Organic American Flag Leek Seeds.

Potato Onions

Potato Onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) also called Hill Onion, Mother Onion, or Pregnant Onions, are a long-term storage multiplier onion. Potato onions produces clusters of onions similar to shallots with some important differences. They are typically larger than shallots with a stronger flavor and store much longer, up to 12 months if conditions are right. Our popular Growing Guide provides more information on the potato onion.

More Information and Resources

For more information, All the Onions is an inexpensive book, rich in details on choosing, planting, growing, and harvesting shallots, leeks, garlic, and many kinds of onions. Also, check out our Organic Gardening Resource Center for tips in articles and videos.

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4 comments

Linda, if your ground freezes, you may want to wait until the spring to plant. Otherwise you can plant this fall and just make sure you mulch your shallots with about 6-8 inches of straw or another mulch to keep them from freezing.

Suzanne

I live in Deer Park,Wash 99006. Can I plant shallots in fall in this area?

Linda Weber

CS, yes you should be able to grow shallots and leeks, no problem. You would plant them in the fall and let them grow over the winter. They will be ready to harvest the next summer. The leeks you may be ready to harvest some sooner, even over the late winter, but in the spring as well.

Suzanne

I am in Zone 8A, on the northeastern NC coastal plain. Will I be able to grow even small-ish shallots or leeks? BTW, your California Early White do excellently here.

CS Shields

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