Leeks

Family: Alliaceae

Countries: Africa, Albania, Algeria, Asia, Balearic Islands, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Europe, France, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Yugoslavia

Leeks (also known by their botanical name Allium porrum) are tasty vegetables that have short sowing window and a long growing season; as a result, many gardeners miss the leek’s narrow seed sowing period and accordingly fail to grow these delicious and versatile vegetables.  Like the majority of edible plants, leeks grow best in a sunny or partially shaded area.  Leeks thrive in rich soils; accordingly, it’s really worth enhancing your soil with a mulch of top quality, peat-free compost.

Experienced gardeners who want to grow leeks for shows and exhibitions often grow leeks from small shoots produced by mature leeks; these grass like growths are called pips.  Like leek seedlings, pips will also develop into leeks.  However, leeks can also be grown from seeds.  Seeds have the benefit of being more accessible and are available to all gardeners.

In the UK, we can sow leek seeds from January to February (from winter to late winter) under glass, and from the beginning of March through until the end of April (early spring to mid spring), for outdoor sowings.  The main sowing season for leek seeds in the UK, is from March to April.  Whether you’re growing leek seeds under glass or outside, these seeds need temperatures of around 14C (57F) for germination.  Leek seeds are traditionally sown in a seed bed but you can also sow leek seeds in individual modules or containers.  When sowing leek seeds, sow your seeds thinly; only ever sow one seed per module in seed trays.

Peat is not needed to grow good quality leeks; leeks will thrive when grown in good quality, peat-free composts or rich soils.  It’s only usually exhibition growers that grow their leeks in glasshouses.  Leeks can be grown outdoors in seed beds, modules, containers, raised beds, or in open ground.  In the UK, leek seeds are usually sown in a seed bed or in individual modules from March to April (from early spring to mid spring).

During May, June, or July, (from late spring to mid summer) the young leek seedlings are ready to be lifted and transplanted.  At this stage, the leeks don’t look like much; they are still small, thin plants that have grown to about the size of a pencil; this is the time to plant your leeks in their final positions.

When leek seedlings are transplanted, the seedlings should be planted much more deeply; this will encourage the leek to produce a longer and whiter, solid stem.  I can still fondly remember my friends, Bud and Torrance showing me how to plant leeks about 20 years ago, it’s a simple and straight forward process once you know how.  I have such happy memories of growing leeks; I hope you’ll enjoy growing leeks as much as I have.  To transplant leek seedlings, take a tool – a dibber made from a broken fork or spade handle is ideal – and punch your tool into firmed soil or compost and give it a wiggle to create a deep indentation around the thickness of a spade or fork’s handle and about 20cm (8″) deep, this will make a perfect hole for your leek seedling.  Drop one leek seedling into the centre of each hole you make; next, take a watering can (without a rose) and gently fill the hole with water.  This skinny little leek may look lost in too deep a hole and you may think it’s not planted properly, but I can assure you that this method really does work!

In times of drought, provide your leeks with regular watering during the growing season; this is all you need to do – avoid any temptation to cover the soil over your plants, as this would be detrimental to your leeks.  This growing method encourages the leeks to grow longer, thicker stems.  Over the next four months or so, the soil will naturally start to gradually fall into the hole and this process will gently earth up your leeks.  Space your leek seedlings 25-30cm (10-12″) apart, and allow 45cm (18″) between each row.

To grow the best quality leeks, it’s important to provide your plants with a good quality growing medium and remember to water leeks regularly during times of drought.  Keep the soil around leeks free from weeds to prevent competition.

Leeks now suffer with a number of pests and diseases that greatly affect the growth and success of these vegetables.  Onion White Rot is a soil borne fungus, which commonly affects leeks grown on allotments; if your site is contaminated with White Rot, you can avoid this problem by growing leeks in containers of fresh soil or compost.  Choose deep containers to grow the best quality leeks with the longest stems and take care to avoid any contact with contaminated soil, compost, containers, tools, boots, etc..

Leek Moth is now a widespread problem for leek growers; their caterpillars will eat their way through your plants and destroy them.  To avoid this problem, it’s advisable to protect leeks with a resilient covering, like Enviromesh.

Leek Rust is a fungal disease, which varies in its effects, causing mild to more serious afflictions, leaving the affected leeks with rusty orange or brown coloured spots and markings.  If Leek Rust is a serious problem for you, try growing leeks in containers of fresh soil or compost.  Take care to avoid contaminated soil, containers, tools, and boots.

Young baby leeks are harvested early in the growing season; while mature leeks are harvested from August until February (from late summer to late winter), in the UK.  Leeks are another vegetable that can be grown especially for Christmas lunches and dinners.  These vegetables can be grown to full size and will contentedly wait in the soil, ready to be harvested as necessary.

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