Shallots and chives

Date: Aug 2007   Author: Eric Darley


Both shallots and chives belong to the onion family, Amaryllidaceae. Home gardeners usually grow a small quantity of each because they are useful for garnishing salads and flavouring soups and cooked dishes. Shallots are grown by a few market gardeners but chives are a rarity on commercial farms.


Shallots and chives prefer cool weather during the growing period and the best temperature range is 13° to 24°C. Autumn sowing is satisfactory everywhere except on the tablelands where, because of the long, cold winter, early spring is the best time for sowing. Autumn sowing is feasible if the plants are established before winter. Both shallots and chives are long-season crops, taking up to six months from planting to marketing.


These plants prefer a deep, fertile, friable soil containing plenty of organic matter. A well-drained, light-textured soil makes planting and harvesting easy and is more likely to result in clean and presentable produce. Shallots do not like acid soils and prefer a soil reaction of pH 6 or higher. If the soil is too acid, agricultural lime or dolomite can be applied at about 3 to 5 tonnes per hectare and incorporated a month or two before planting.

Thorough land preparation is important to obtain a good kill of weeds and produce a suitable tilth for planting. The first working should be deep, with subsequent cultivations aimed at producing a moist, pliable tilth. If the soil is not very fertile, animal manure can be applied to the preceding crop. Do not apply organic animal products such as blood and bone immediately before planting because they attract the corn seed fly whose larvae will attack the planted cloves or germinating seed.


At least two different species have been called shallots in Australia. The first is the true shallot, Allium cepa (Aggregatum group), and the second is the japanese bunching onion, Allium fistulosum. It is the japanese bunching onion, also called welsh onion and spanish onion, that is most widely grown commercially.

True shallot

Take cloves for planting from large, well-developed plants free of white rot disease. Space the cloves 12 cm apart in rows 30–40 cm apart, and cover with about 6 mm of soil. Irrigation should be frequent enough to avoid moisture stress during the growing period, but never let the soil become waterlogged.

A base dressing of fertiliser to supply 25–40 kg/ha of nitrogen and 30–45 kg/ha of phosphorus should be banded into the soil below the crop row. If only a small area is being planted, about 2 kg of a complete fertiliser mixture can be banded along each 30 m of row. During the growing period, one or two side dressings of nitrogen may be beneficial.

Shallow cultivation for weed control is carried out whenever necessary until about five weeks before the harvest. At this stage shallots can be blanched by banking soil to a depth of about 5 cm against both sides of the row. Another 5 cm of soil is thrown up two to three weeks later. This practice will result in the lower 10–13 cm of the mature shallot plant turning white.

Shallots may be harvested green for use in salads, or dry for use as a flavouring. If required as a green vegetable, the stems are pulled by hand when about 6 mm in diameter. The outer skin is peeled off and the roots trimmed before final washing and bunching. The average yield of green shallots is 15 dozen bunches per 100 m² of crop.

When shallots are being grown for the mature bunches of cloves, which have a more delicate flavour than onions, they are left until their tops dry off. The bunches of mature cloves should be pulled before the tops become dry and papery. A large planting can be mechanically skimmed prior to pulling. The shallots are allowed to cure in the field for a day or two in warm weather before being placed in storage. A good average crop of dry shallots will yield about 5 t/ha although very good crops may produce up to twice this yield.

The plant will form cloves only at temperatures above 21°C. Larger cloves are produced at longer day lengths. Therefore, spring plantings in the tablelands should be early to allow as much vegetative growth as possible before bulbing begins.

Japanese bunching onion

This species has been of great economic importance in China (where it appears to have originated more than 2000 years ago), Japan, Siberia and Korea and has spread throughout the world. It is non-bulbing, prolific and hardy, and resistant to pink root, smut and yellow dwarf.

It grows continually by tillering throughout most of the warm season of the year. Although there are a great many varieties in use in China and Japan, only one or two are listed by Australian seed suppliers. The most popular is the variety Straight Leaf, which is pulled and bunched when the stalks are pencil thick.

Propagation is either by seed or by division of plants.

With direct seeding, from 3–5 kg/ha of seed is drilled into rows varying in width from 45–60 cm apart. Thereafter, the culture is similar to that for true shallots harvested green. Some growers plant four rows on a bed about 1.52 m wide and mound the soil along the rows to produce blanched stalks about 10 cm long. The market prefers shallots with dark green, straight leaves.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives are thought to be a native of Europe. They are completely cold hardy, will withstand drought, and grow well in a wide variety of soils.

They are perennial plants, producing thick tufts of foliage and developing very small oval bulbs that form a compact mass at the plant base.

The small, hollow leaves can be cut and used for seasoning in salads, omelettes and other dishes. Processors use finely chopped leaves for mixing with cottage cheese and cream cheese.

Chives are often grown as a border plant in home gardens because they produce attractive lavender-like flowers. Although chives are perennial, it is a good idea to lift and divide the clumps every two to three years to invigorate the tufts.

Soil preparation is the same as for shallots. Chives are usually propagated by divisions of the tufts and the best time for this is September–October. They do produce seed under certain environmental conditions. If seed is available, the crop can be established by direct seeding. Fertilising, cultivation and general care of chives are the same as for shallots.

To harvest chives, cut the leaves with a knife. Periodic cutting or removal of leaves stimulates fresh growth.