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Essential ingredients: onions and garlic

Aromatic alliums like onions, shallots and garlic are essential ingredients in simple weeknight suppers and festive holiday feasts.

Onions and shallots

You can grow onions from seed in February, but the simplest way is to grow them from ‘sets’ (partially grown onions).

If you’re growing onions, ‘Red Baron’ is a good red variety. ‘Autumn Gold’, ‘Centurion’ and ‘Turbo’ produce solid brown onions that store well. Which? Gardening trialled 12 different kinds and, as a Which? member, you can log in to find out which varieties were named Best Buys.

Unlike onions, every shallot set you plant divides into a clump of up to 12 similar-sized shallots. Magic! They’re more expensive to buy but have a sweeter taste. We like ‘Topper’.

How to grow onions and shallots

  • Plant sets straight into the soil in March or April.
  • Push the sets in gently so the tips are just covered. Protect with fleece if birds start to pull them out. Space rows 15–30cm apart and plants 5cm apart.
  • Only water onions if the weather is exceptionally dry.
  • Let the tops dry and fall over naturally. In August, when skins are firm and papery, lift the bulbs gently with a fork and lay them on the soil to bake in the sun. In wet weather, ripen them in a sunny spot under cover.
  • Store in a cool, dry place; plait into strings and hang, or place single layers in wooden trays.

Find more tips on how to grow onions.


This is remarkably easy to grow from individual cloves. Don’t use supermarket garlic – buy it from a garden centre. We recommend ‘Solent Wight’.

How to grow garlic 


The flower shoots or ‘scapes’ of some garlic varieties are regarded as a gourmet treat in some cuisines. Cut them when young and tender, and use them in any recipe that requires garlic.

  • Plant in the soil in November if you live in the south and have free-draining soil; otherwise, wait until January or February.
  • Split the bulbs into individual cloves just before planting. Space them about 15cm apart.
  • Use a trowel to ease them into the soil (don’t push them) and make sure the tops are buried so birds don’t pull them out.
  • Harvest and store in July.


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