Leeks a-germinating

“The sweetest and most delicately flavored of all onions,” is how leeks are described in Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, and I have to agree. What’s more, they’re easy to grow, rarely have problems, and will overwinter with protection.

SEEDING: I started mine last week in flats, thickly spaced under grow-lights. When the seedlings are about 3” tall, I’ll transplant them to individual cells in a 72-cell flat where they’ll stay until transplant time just after last frost.  That’s about a two-month lead time here. Our potting soil is rich enough that they need no fertilizing, but I give them a shot of diluted fish emulsion (2-4-1) every few weeks anyway.

TRANSPLANT: At transplant time I open a six-inch-deep hole with a dibble or trowel, drop the leek in so that only an inch or two of foliage shows, then water the roots before re-filling the hole lightly. This six inch depth gives you a blanched, white stem for that length, and this is the tenderest part of the plant. Some say to cut a bit off a bit of the roots to make trasplanting easier, but I don’t because I’m thinking of the leek, not myself.

HILLING: To increase the height of the blanched end you can hill up your plants with soil, or cover with leaves or leaf mold as they grow – both for weed and moisture control. Just remember, as with all onions, the roots are shallow. I space the leeks 6” apart in staggered rows in a wide bed, and water immediately. If you’re going to hill up the leeks once or twice, then plant in rows, not beds to make hilling easier. Like all vegetables, leeks like composted, well-drained soil, but they’re pretty tolerant of other conditions.

Then keep them evenly moist, and fertilized with fish enulsion or manure tea if needed, and wait – not quite forever, but three months anyway for the first harvest. Unlike other onions, leek tops (or flags) don’t die back and fall over; they remain green right through maturity.

Leeks don’t need curing like onions do, and they’ll stay fresh for a few weeks in the fridge. In many areas they’ll winter over if given a deep mulch to prevent the fround from freezing – just as you can do with other root vegetables for a fresh carrot or parsnip all winter.

RECIPE: All you need do is braise them in a covered pot with a little water until tender, with an inch or so of the green end on. Or, once cooked, arrange them in a baking dish, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and grated cheese, the broil until the cheese melts.

About lifegrower

Peter V. Fossel has been gardening since he was nine, and has been an organic farmer for the last 20 years. His most recent book, “Organic Farming, Everything You Need to know” was published by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, 2007. He’s written numerous gardening articles for Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Country Journal, Out Here, and American Profile among others. He was Gardens Manager for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before returning to Cape Cod to start his newest organic venture, Swan River Farm in Dennisport, MA.
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