Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Growing and Loving Leeks

We discovered leeks for the first time last year.  It was late spring when we stumbled across a container of leek seedlings on sale for less than a dollar.  We had never grown leeks before and never really felt a desire to plant them - but we decided to go for it anyway.  We stuck them in the ground in late June and never thought much about them.  In late September, just before the plots were about to be turned over, we harvested our leeks.  And that's when it happened - we fell in love with leeks!  Yes, even me, the non-onion lover, loves leeks.  We fried them in butter, we put them in stirfries and we made potato leek soup.   Trust me, there's nothing more scrumptious than a steaming bowl of potato leek soup on a crisp autumn night.

This year, we purposefully searched for leek seedlings at the garden centre.  We also got more information about planting leeks - now that we know how delicious they are, we don't want to take any chances.  Here's what we discovered.

Leeks are...
  • a mild member of the onion family
  • a cool climate vegetable 
  • easy to grow (more good news for us)
  • planted early in spring and harvested late in the fall (need 110 - 150 growing days)
  • good for storing, especially if kept in a bed of sand
  • heavy feeders and prefer soil with lots of compost
To plant seedlings:
  • Separate the roots very carefully - if all else fails, dip the root ball in water to wash the soil away so that seedlings separate more easily. There must have been 300 little seedlings in our little container - that's a lot of leeks!
  • Dig a 10cm or 3 inch trench. 
  • Place each seedling deep in the trench and cover with soil up to the first leaf notch.
  • Leave about 10 to 15cm space between seedlings.  Smaller spacing will lead to skinnier leeks.
  • Try to keep the trench formation so that water will collect in the trench and the soil will continue to wash up around the leek as it grows and as it rains.  This will help with "blanching" the leeks throughout the growing season.  Blanching refers to turning the green leafy part into the white delicious parts of a leek.  The more white the better!  As the season goes on, continually pile more dirt or mulch around the base of the leek, thereby blanching it.  (We didn't do this last year and as a result our white parts were very small - delicious, but small.)
  • Keep well watered.
To harvest:
  • Harvest the leeks as you need them and leave the rest in the ground as long as you can.  They can withstand frost and even some snow (I've witnessed this in my sister's garden on the farm.)
  • Use a fork to dig out the leeks.  Their roots are much longer than onion roots.  If you try to pull them out, you may snap the bottom and loose the blanched part of the leek.
We'll keep you posted on our leeks and share some recipes in the fall.

Wish us luck!

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