She knows there’s no success like failure
And failure is no success at all*
The time has come. We need to talk about the shallots.
Last autumn about a half of the outback garden space was dedicated to garlic and shallots. They were to be my 2022 farmers market cash crop: niche products for the cooks and foodies which I felt weren’t adequately represented by 2021 vendors. They would be low maintenance and occupy garden real estate over winter when not much else is viable in the food plant department.
It must be noted that the garlic and shallot farming plan was devised prior to the April 2022 Visit To Boyce Thompson Arboretum Which Changed My View on Desert Gardening.
Once I began researching, it turned out that botanically speaking the topic of shallots is complicated. As an aside, botany has to be the most shape-shifting, myriad armed Hindu goddess of the sciences.
In support of entering the world of shallot culture, I invested in (fairly expensive) planting sets of what I believed were three different kind of shallots : Yellow Dutch aka Yellow Moon, Red Dutch and Allium oschaninii Griselle or French Grey. I saved a pound of my 2021 Inchelium Red heritage garlic harvest for planting.
After a really unusually hot, dry spring and early summer, during which time I watched all the alliums in the garden, both ornamental and food, struggle, I harvested the garlic last month. It proved to weigh a little less than last year’s harvest, but not by much. After a few weeks hanging in the conservatory, it’s cured and graded now, sitting in baskets on the lovely old folk art storage and drying shelves in the gathering room now.
Each week I offer a small basket of garlic at the market. I am going to dehydrate a few pounds of the smaller bulbs and will also mince some in olive oil for everyday household use.
But as to the shallots: I was ready to write a failure piece with this image as illustration.
Though, at the time of planting, I’d had two seasons (three now) of really good garlic harvests, it’s no secret that I went into the shallot undertaking with zero prior experience, knowing nothing about them or their cultivation. I researched online and read articles from both reputable and reliable sources, and some maybe not so much judging by the grammar and clickbait on the sites. It’s the way I approach anything I want to know about: read all about it, comparing sources. There a lot of misinformation out there.
Why, then did I allow the French Grey shallots to get to look like the above image? The green is grass not sign of allium life.
To start I was a little uneasy that I was setting myself up for failure because most reliable resources stressed that shallots like to be continually damp to thrive. Chihuahuan desert conditions are by definition not damp. I planted the notion of failure along with each little bulb which went into the ground, then covered it over with thick layers of chopped straw mulch which the birds and strong spring winds rearranged with abandon .
The major reason, however, for the above dismal vegetable cemetery image was because I had read that shallots form “on the surface”. I was waiting to see some bulbs forming. On the surface. When there were none I assumed failure.
The time is coming for division of the big clumps of Hemerocallis and Iris Germanica in the front. I decided to roll down my sleeves, spray myself liberally with (homemade) essential oils mosquito repellent and address the failed shallot problem so I have space for the waterwise garden plan involving Hemerocallis and Iris at the back. Surprise! There WERE shallots under that dead looking mess. Lots and lots of shallots.
Small but mighty, the French Greys, which incidentally are tan skinned so I might not have purchased what I thought I purchased as planting sets, are curing on an old mesh window screen alongside the kayaks and Little Yoni canoe in the conservatory. The Yellow Moons are hanging in bunches. The Dutch Reds are still in the ground, tops still greenish so I’m seeing if they will get any bigger with monsoon rains. Or maybe it is the other way round for these two Dutch as opposed to French varieties.
And that is the very long story as to why, like some raven at my window with a broken wing, the insistent soundtrack in my head these past few days has been Love Minus Zero, the song from 2016 Nobel Literature laureate and musician Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman), recorded first when I was just seven years old.
I’m sure the lyrics (below) are copyrighted but the more important question is when are said copyright holders planning to pay all the backrent owed for occupying my head with such persistence?
My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all
The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge
The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing