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The Seed Program
Growing Hints

This is one of the many growing hints that are available as a bonus with a registered copy of The Seed Program.


Leeks are a crop that all gardeners should try -- most will be surprised at how easy they are to grow and how delicious they taste. Leeks have a mild onion flavor, and in most places can be harvested straight through the winter (although you may need a pick axe to get them out of the ground at times).

Leeks cannot be started from sets, as some bulbing onion varieties can. Fortunately, leeks are very easy to grow from seed and aren't bothered much by transplanting. Follow the same procedure that is used to start onions. Start the seed indoors in mid winter. Use a wide flat with one compartment, such as the plastic tray that mushrooms are sold in (remember to punch a few drainage holes in the bottom if you decide to "recycle" a mushroom tray). Scatter the seed thinly and evenly. Keep the tray under grow lights or in a very bright window. When the grass-like leek plants get to be six or seven inches long, use a scissors to cut them back to one and a half or two inches in length (use the part you cut off as you would chives).

In early spring, as soon as you are able to prepare a spot out in the garden, gently pull the individual plants apart and plant them about six inches apart. Leek plants appreciate fertile soil and plenty of moisture. A mulch is helpful, especially in the heat of summer or if conditions are dry.

Leeks are traditionally blanched to increase the tender light green portion of the edible stem, although this is not entirely necessary and the dark green part is actually more nutritious. There are different approaches to blanching. One of the easiest ways is to plant the leeks in a trench six to eight inches deep. As the plants grow, gradually break down the sides of the trench to cover the lower portions of the plant. Mulch can also be pulled up close to the plant to blanch them, but the mulch must be tightly packed enough to exclude light in order to be effective in blanching them. A combination of trenching and mulching is probably your best bet -- some blanching with soil does produce a better leek and the mulch is very helpful for eliminating weeds and providing the cool moist conditions that leeks like. Pile on an extra thick layer of mulch in early winter to delay the freezing of the soil. The plant won't really notice, but this will make it easier to rip them out of the ground when the weather gets cold.

Leeks can be harvested at any time, but you will want to let them reach full size unless you've planted quite a few of them. Harvest can continue all through the winter and into early spring. The plants will quickly send up a seed stalk their second year, and will not be much good for eating once this happens.

Leeks are sometimes blamed for being "gritty." Dirt can easily work in between the leaves but a little special attention will get rid of it. When you've harvested your leeks, cut the roots off the bottom and trim the green leafy part off of the top. Peel off a layer or two of leaves if they look ragged. Cut the remaining leek into long sections, and cut these in half lengthwise. Rinse the leek thoroughly under running water, first holding one end and then the other to wash all the leaf surfaces briefly. This will quickly and simply get rid of any trapped soil that might have resulted in a gritty leek.

Leeks have a taste all their own, but are very much like a mild onion. They can be used in place on onions in many recipes. Leek and potato soup is a classic recipe, and a delicious way to use large amounts of both of these garden crops.

For more crops, more complete gardening information, a garden journal and a planting schedule you can customize for your region, purchase The Seed Program!

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