Seed list 2014 – part 2 – alliums

This second article looking at the varieties we plan to sow in the coming year covers alliums: onions, shallots, garlic, and leeks. I make several sowings of onions, shallots and garlic. The first sowing, from sets, is at the end of the season, late autumn or early winter, to overwinter in the polytunnel. I have found the results to be far better than overwintering outdoors. I then make a spring sowing outdoors, again from sets, as soon as the soil has dried out sufficiently from the winter rains – something of a problem this year. Whilst fine for the onions and shallots, this puts the outdoor garlic a little later than ideal, as it benefits from a period of cold in order to develop good cloves, but seems to work better for us overall than sowing earlier and suffering the rigours of the winter weather. The damp is more of a problem than the cold, even with the generally good drainage provided by the somewhat sandy soil of our slightly raised beds. The undercover crop is larger and better, but the outdoor crop is usually still useful. I then sow various small onions from seed a little later; these do not need so long to develop and are culinary treats rather than main crop.

Onions and shallots

I had originally planned to grow most, if not all, of my onions from seed. Seed has some advantages over sets, including less likelihood of bolting and a much wider range of varieties. However, sets are simply so convenient, and one can quickly plant a few hundred sets in very little time. Whilst some may bolt, unless heat treated, most should be fine. I currently grow my maincrop onions and shallots from sets, and supplement these with a small quantity of a few interesting varieties from seed. Amongst these is the famous red onion from Tropea, Calabria, which we tasted several times in the form of an onion pudding whilst in Tuscany. They are sweet and delicious and a must on the seed list. Also a treat are the small ‘cipollini’, such as the well known Borettana, which sometimes appear in delis and supermarkets in preserved form. For spring onions, the traditional variety is White Lisbon, and for a larger salad onion, Cipolla di Barletta makes a nice white bulb.

Having tried various onion and shallot sets, we have settled on onion Senshyu Yellow and shallot Jermor for autumn planting. Along with other yellow onions, we have also tried the red onion, Electric, but found too many bolted and were generally of lower quality than the yellow sorts. However, this was with outdoor sowings, so perhaps they may perform better with some protection. For spring sowing, Stuttgarter Giant and Sturon are both good traditional varieties. Red Baron is a traditional red onion, which generally performs well for us. I am not yet decided on the best shallot for our growing conditions, but typically grow one of the French sorts, sometimes known as Jersey Long or banana shallots. Although smaller round shallots, which seem to be stocked in larger quantities by garden centres, may be better for pickling, the Jersey sort is, in my view, much to be preferred for general culinary purposes and seems, from our experience, to have a better chance of giving reasonable bulbs. We have previously grown Longor, but could not find any locally this year, so will be trying Vigarmor, a similar looking sort.

Onion sets, spring sowing

  • Stuttgarter Giant
  • Sturon
  • Red Barron

Onion sets, autumn sowing

  • Senshyu Yellow

Shallot sets, spring sowing

  • Longor
  • Vigarmor

Shallot sets, autumn sowing

  • Jermor

Onions from seed

  • White Lisbon
  • Cipolla di Barletta
  • Tropea Rossa Tonda
  • Cipolla Borettana
  • Rossa Lunga di Firenze


Garlic is a little tricky to grow well. Our best results have been from Thermidrome, overwintered under cover, where it produced exceptionally large and good quality bulbs. We have yet to decide on an ideal variety for spring sowing. At the moment we are growing Arno, but if it does not produce well this year, another will be tried next season.

  • Thermidrome
  • Arno


Leeks have always been a good crop for us, and the old favourite Musselburgh has never failed to give us good quality leeks that stand well through the winter. One variety I have wanted to grow for a while is Blue de Solaise. In fact, I sowed some last year, but appear to have received a packet of dead seed as almost nothing germinated. As I was already suspicious of some other seed from this supplier, I have some from an alternative source to try this year. I am not planning to replace Musselburgh, but to find a second reliable variety to grow along side it.

  • Musselburgh
  • Blue de Solaise 

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