- All About Growing Leeks
- Growing Leeks
- Harvesting and Storing Leeks
- Propagating Leeks
- Growing Leeks
- Mixed Greens Blog
- Pasta with Creamy Leeks and Prociutto
- 1. Remove the Roots
- 2. Make a Slit Down the Middle
- 3. Start Peeling
All About Growing Leeks
Harden off seedlings for at least a week before transplanting them to prepared furrows in deeply dug garden beds. Shape 6-inch deep furrows in the cultivated bed, and line the bottom with a standard application of a balanced organic fertilizer. Refill 1 inch of soil, and set out the leek seedlings in the partially refilled furrow, spacing summer leeks 3 inches apart, fall leeks 4 inches apart and winter leeks 6 inches apart. As the leeks gain size, gradually fill in the furrow and then mound a little loose soil over the base of the plants.
For recommended planting dates for your local climate — and to design your garden beds — try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Keep leeks carefully weeded, and drench plants with a liquid organic fertilizer when they are 15 inches tall. In dry climates, mulch leeks with grass clippings, chopped leaves or another organic mulch that helps retain soil moisture. Leeks need more water than other garden crops, and should never be allowed to run dry.
Harvesting and Storing Leeks
Use a digging fork to loosen soil around leeks before pulling them as needed in the kitchen. Trim roots to one-half inch, and cut off all but 2 inches of the green tops. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Before eating, slice leeks lengthwise and rinse under cool running water to remove bits of soil. Excess leeks are easy to dry in a food dehydrator.
Leeks that have been exposed to cold winter weather produce flowers in early summer, with ripe black seeds about a month later. When the flower heads dry to tan and the seed covers begin to split, gather the seed heads in a paper bag, and allow them to dry indoors for a week. When thoroughly dry, shatter the seed heads and collect the largest seeds for replanting. Under good conditions, leek seeds will store up to three years.
For growing advice for many more garden crops, check out our complete Crops at a Glance Guide.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.
Leek, Allium ampeloprasum, also known as Allium porrum, is a biennial vegetable in the family Liliaceae, grown for its edible bulb and leaves. The plant is a slightly developed bulb attached to a cylindrical stem formed by the overlapping thick, flat leaves. The plant can produce clusters of white, pink or purple flowers and blue-black seeds in the second year. The plant can reach 0.6–0.9 m (2–3 ft) and can be grown as an annual, harvested after one growing season or as a biennial with two growing seasons. Although modern leek does not grow wild, it was likely domesticated from wild ancestors in the Mediterranean region.
Leek scape (flower bud)
Leek blossom ‹ ×
Leeks are consumed as a vegetable after cooking and are incorporated into many dishes.
Basic requirements Leeks grow very well in cool climates and can be successfully grown in most soils as long as they are rich and well draining. Leek will grow optimally in a well-draining loam with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Leek will grow optimally at temperatures between 18-21˚C (65-70˚F) with 8 hours of bright sunlight. Propagation In areas with short growing seasons, leeks should be planted from transplants started indoors. Seeds should be planted at a depth of 0.6-1.3 cm (0.25-0.5 in) leaving 7.5-10 cm (3-4 in) between plants and allowing 20-40 cm (8-16 in) between rows. The soil should be moist to a depth of (18 in) and have reached a minimum temperature of 7˚C (45˚F) for successful germination. Transplants should be planted 5-8 cm (2-6 in) apart in rows spaced 30-90 cm (12-36 in) apart. In order to produce large stalks either plant the leek in a depression 7-10 cm (3-4 in) deep and gradually fill to the leaves. Alternatively, the leeks may be planted at ground level, with soil being added around the stalk throughout the season. General care and maintenance Leeks require regular watering for optimum development and should be provided with water once a week by soaking the soil to a depth of around 18 inches. Blanching leeks encourages the production of long white stalks. Blanching is achieved by gradually mounding the soil around the stalk to leaves. Blanching should not be carried out until the plants have reached an appropriate size – roughly that of a pencil. Leeks will benefit from the addition of nitrogen fertilizer throughout the growing season. fertilizer should be applied as a side dressing. Keep leek beds weed free by carefully cultivating around the plants taking care not to damage the leek roots. Harvesting Leeks develop slowly and take about 100 and 120 days to reach maturity. Leeks are ready for harvest when the stalk has reach 3.5 cm (1 in) in diameter. Harvest by carefully loosening the plant with a garden fork and pulling from the soil.
Anderson, C.R. Leeks. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. Available at: http://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-6070.pdf. Free to access. Drost, D. (2010). Leeks in the garden. Utah State Cooperative Extension. Available at: http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/HG_2004-04.pdf. Free to access. MacKenzie, J. (2008). Leeks. University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension. Available at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/vegetables/leeks/doc/M1230.pdf. Free to access.
By Penny Ossowski
Leeks, (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum), are a biennial vegetable that are usually grown as an annual. They are closely related to kurrat (Egyptian leeks), onions, garlic and elephant garlic. Leeks have been cultivated in Egypt and the Middle East for over 3000 years. It has been found in wall carvings and drawings as part of the Egyptian diet at archaeological sites dating back to 2000BC. The first leeks in Australia were grown from seed brought with the first fleet. Leeks are grown for their thickened stems (they do not have bulbs) which have a more subtle (even sweet) flavour than onions.
Leeks prefer an open sunny position but can tolerate a little shade. They will grow in any fertile well drained soil (sandy, alluvial and volcanic) but do better in moist clay loamy soils with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. If the soil is too acid add some garden lime or dolomite. Soil structure and moisture retention can be improved by adding well broken down compost and manures when preparing the soil preferably for the crop before the leeks. In the Southeast corner of Queensland leeks prefer to grow during our cooler months and are not usually troubled by a little frost, if grown in our hot summers they are usually a poorer quality. They take from 4 to 6 months to reach maturity, while they are growing keep the soil loose and mulch well to keep the soil moist. Most people find them much easier to grow than onions. They will even grow well in containers.
Sow seeds directly into garden beds or start off in seed trays, whether planting directly into gardens or planting out seedlings plant into a trench 10 – 20cm deep. Don’t plant out seedlings until they are 15 – 20cm tall. After transplanting and in the early growing period apply liquid fertilisers regularly. By planting leeks in a trench and filling it in slowing as they grow, then mounding the soil around them we cause the white part of the leeks stalk to be longer. This can also be achieved by planting seedlings into drill holes and slowly filling them in or by wrapping the plant in paper as it grows. These growing methods exclude light from the base of the stalk and are ways of blanching so more of the leek is white and edible. When using the paper method of blanching water the soil not the plant as wet paper will encourage snail and slugs to take up residence. Give leeks room to grow by spacing them about 10cm apart. As leeks grow water them often enough to keep the soil moist but not wet. The soil which is mounded around the leeks should be a dry and fine texture if it holds too much water it will rot the leek. Leeks are not troubled much by pest or diseases. Harvest leeks when the stem is 2cm thick and the blanched section is 10 – 15cm long by lifting them from the soil with a garden fork so they don’t break. Leeks will only cross pollinate with other leeks not onions or other relatives. Leeks are good companions for onions, celery and carrots.
Some popular varieties of leeks available as seed from Select or Eden Seeds are
Autumn Giant – long shaft with almost no bulbing
Blue Green Winter – Winter hardy leek with attractive blue green leaves. Stems are long, thick and white.
Carentan – Large thick white stems 20cm x 5cm, dark green leaves, very productive old European variety
Musselburg – Most popular Australian variety, very tender, fine quality, mild flavour, good for home gardener and marketing, very vigorous and frost hardy. described in 1864 N.S.W. Horticultural Magazine as “The grand old Leek of Scotland”
Giant Caretan – Old French variety; mild flavoured, extremely tender leek; very large, creamy white stalks and blue-green leaves; vigorous, fast growing, hardy and tolerates very cold weather
You can buy leek seeds online from Eden Seeds. These are the old traditional open pollinated varieties – our food Heritage.
As in the paragraph above the edible part of the leek is the white base and light green stalk, the dark green tops become woody, chewy and bitter. The tops can be used to tie other herbs to form a bouquet garni. Always clean away any dirt trapped between the leaves before cooking, the base is usually okay but as you slice further up the stalk it is often necessary to separate the leaves to clean out between them before slicing. Leeks can be boiled, steamed, stewed or sautéed, are delicious cooked in soups, stews, casseroles, pies, sauces, quiches and other dishes and can be eaten raw in salads. They can be used instead of onions in many dishes. Leeks are best used straight after harvest and will keep well left growing in the garden but can be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator for a week or two. To keep them for longer slice, sautée in butter then freeze. Because of their importance in Wales, leeks are used extensively in their cuisine.
Medicinally leeks, as with other members of the Allium family, are helpful in reducing ‘bad’ cholesterols and LDL while they help increase levels of good cholesterols and HDL and have anti bacterial properties. They are good for the kidneys and bladder and can be used in poultices to treat ulcers, corns, boils, carbuncles, acne and insect bites. They may also help to fight cancer.
Some interesting historical facts about leeks from Wikipedia
- The leek was the favourite vegetable of the Roman Emperor Nero, who consumed it most often in soup. He thought that eating them would improve his singing voice. He was given the nickname ‘porrophagus’, meaning ‘leek-eater’; although no one called him this to his face!
- The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, worn along with the daffodil (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as “Peter’s Leek,” Cenhinen Bedr) on St. David’s Day. According to legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the leek on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons in 640AD that took place in a leek field. This distinguished them from the enemy so they wouldn’t kill their own side during the battle. The Welshmen won the battle giving the leek a revered place in Welsh history.
- The 1985 and 1990 British one pound coins bear the design of a leek in a coronet, representing Wales.
- An old Welsh tradition is to rub themselves with leeks before going into battle to bring extra strength and power while providing protection from injury.
- Girls who go to sleep on St David’s Day with a leek under their pillow will see their future husband in their dreams.
Serving Size: (100 grams raw)
Calories: 61 Kilojoules: 256.2
Total Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg
Total Carbohydrates 14g Dietary Fibre 2g
Sugars 4g Sodium 20mg
Protein 2g Vitamin A 1667IU
Folate 64 mcg Vitamin C 12 mg
Manganese .481mg Vitamin K 47 mcg
Thiamin .06 mg Niacin .04mg
Vitamin B6 .233mg Riboflavin .03mg
Calcium 59mg Magnesium 28mg
Phosphorous 35mg Potassium 180mg
Iron 2.1mg Zinc .12mg
Individual Chicken and Leek Pies
½ cup plain flour ½ teas cayenne pepper ½ teas white pepper
1 teas salt 500g chicken breast (2cm cubes) 2tbsp olive oil
25g butter 2 leeks (white part only) 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 cup white wine/water 1 cup chicken stock/water 1tbsp chopped tarragon
1 cup fresh peas, boiled for 5 min ¼ cup chopped parsley ½ cup cream
4 sheets puff pastry 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten egg yolk for glazing
Place flour peppers and salt in bowl and stir. Add chicken and toss well. Shake off any excess flour. Heat oil and butter in frying pan over high heat, add chicken pieces and stir fry until lightly browned and sealed, but not cooked all the way through. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Place leeks and garlic in the pan and cook over medium hat for 5 minutes, or until soft and wilted. Add wine and boil for 1 minute. Add stock and cream and simmer gently for a further 5 minutes. Add chicken, peas and tarragon and cook for a minute longer. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in parsley.
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Place pastry on floured surface, cut to suit bases, sides and tops of six 9.5cm pie tins. Spoon filling into pastry cases and brush edges with egg yolk, place tops on pies and seal with a fork. Brush tops with egg yolk and make three piercings with a sharp knife in the top of each pie.
Bake on the bottom oven shelf for 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Leek & Blue Cheese Tart
2 sheets shortcrust pastry 2 leeks, trimmed, washed, sliced 150g blue cheese, crumbled
8 small sprigs fresh thyme 300ml ctn thickened cream 20g butter
Line a 2.5cm-deep, 11 x 34cm fluted tart tin, with removable base, with pastry, overlapping slightly. Trim excess. Prick the base all over with fork. Place on a baking tray in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Line the pastry case with non-stick baking paper and fill with pastry weights or rice. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and pastry weights or rice and bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 180°C.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan add leek and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until soft. Set aside to cool slightly.
Arrange the leek, blue cheese and thyme in the pastry case. Whisk the cream and eggs in a large jug. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the cream mixture into the pastry case. Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes or until just set in the centre. Set aside to cool slightly. Cut into slices to serve.
Click the seed variety name for more information.
Site and soil
Leeks prefer an open, sunny site but will tolerate shade for part of the day. They require a moderately rich, fertile soil that is free draining. The addition of compost prior to planting will benefit the crop by improving soil structure and drainage.
Leeks prefer a slightly alkaline soil so a light dressing of lime or dolomite may be required if the pH is below 6.5.
Leeks require a long growing season of at least six months to reach a good size, although they can be eaten at any stage. Seedlings transplanted in early spring will be ready to harvest from late summer and those planted in late spring will provide the main winter crop.
Leeks can be grown from seed or bought as seedlings and transplanted. If growing from seed it is best to plant the seed in punnets or a seed bed, as the seedlings can take 8 to 10 weeks to reach a suitable size for transplanting. Seedlings are ready to transplant when they are about 15 – 20 cm tall.
Leeks are traditionally planted in trenches or in individual 10 – 15 cm deep holes to produce longer white stems. Planting holes are made with a dibber and the seedlings dropped in and gently watered to wash a little oil over the roots. As the leeks grow rain and irrigation will gradually fill the holes. Leeks should be planted at least 15 cm apart to allow them sufficient space to reach full size.
Leeks need little attention aside from weed control and ensuring adequate soil moisture is available during the growing season.
If you want to produce leeks with very long white stems they will need to be blanched. This requires excluding light from the growing stem to prevent it producing chlorophyll. The original planting depth will determine the length of white stem below the surface. To blanch more of the stem either mound the soil around the stems as they grow, or tie layers of newspaper or thin cardboard around the stems. If using the paper method, avoid overhead irrigation and check regularly for snails and slugs that can take up residence inside the paper collars.
Depending on the variety and planting time it is possible to harvest leeks for many months from early autumn until early spring. Use a fork to lift them as the dense root mass makes it difficult to pull them by hand without breaking the stems.
Leeks are not troubled by frost and will remain in good condition in the ground over winter, but will go to seed as soon as the weather warms in spring. They are best used fresh from the ground but will keep for several days if refrigerated.
Leeks are rarely troubled by pests or diseases. Good crop hygiene and regular crop rotation should minimise problems.
Leeks are biennial and if planted in spring will go to seed the following spring. The flowers are arranged in large white or pinkish umbels and are pollinated by insects. Each leek will produce hundreds of seeds. Leeks will not cross with onions or garlic, but will cross with other varieties of leek.
Mixed Greens Blog
The good news is that creamy white leeks have reappeared at the farmers market and I’ve found a wonderful new way to cook them. The bad news is that Cliff Mass says that this cool and rainy La Nina weather pattern is expected to last through April. The only silver lining I can think of is that we now have plenty of snow pack and can water our gardens later in the summer but first we need some sun so we’ll have crops to water. We’re all longing for some real warmth and the blue sky which magically appeared this weekend just long enough for me to have an outdoor birthday party. Whew!!
Now that I have my party weather worries behind me, I can go back to the good leeks and the recipe I found in the fabulous new cookbook, Tender, by Seattle’s very own chef and most importantly, local sustainable food and farm advocate, Tamara Murphy. It’s filled with photographs I can relate to since many of them are taken at our local farmers markets and her simple recipes are geared toward nudging you to cook seasonally, at home, which is exactly what we’re trying to do here at Mixed Greens.
Her Creamed Leeks with Prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano is the kind of multi-purpose recipe I’ll make over and over again since it can be served “over pasta, in risotto, over a chicken breast, mixed into scrambled eggs or served over toast points.” This dish is easy enough for a weeknight meal but rich enough for a dinner party. Best of all, you have plenty of time to cook the pasta or risotto while the leeks and prosciutto bake in the oven and everything can be easily assembled at the last moment.
I chose to serve mine over pasta and changed the original recipe slightly to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand.
Pasta with Creamy Leeks and Prociutto
3 T unsalted butter
3 large leeks, dark green part trimmed off, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, slivered
A sprig or two of fresh thyme and rosemary, chopped
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 cups chicken stock
Prosciutto slices to cover the leeks (about 5)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated parmesan cheese plus extra to sprinkle on top
Big handful of chopped italian parsley
Pasta of your choice (I used spaghetti)
Parchment paper cut to fit the top of your baking dish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in ovenproof pan. Remove from heat. Brush one side of parchment paper with melted butter and set aside.
Add leeks, garlic, thyme and rosemary to the pan. Season with a little salt (prosciutto is salty so you don’t need much) and pepper. Add wine and chicken stock, just covering the leeks.
Lay slices of prosciutto overlapping on top to cover leeks and prevent liquid from evaporating. Cover with parchment paper, buttered side down.
Bake for 45 minutes, remove parchment paper and bake for 10 – 15 minutes longer to crisp the prosciutto.
Remove prosciutto from the pan and dice. Transfer leeks to a bowl using a slotted spoon.
Cook liquid remaining in pan until reduced by half. (I cooked pasta during this step, approx. 8 – 10 minutes).
Add cream to liquid and cook for 3 minutes longer. Add leeks and prosciutto back into the sauce along with parmesan cheese. Simmer until thickened.
Serve over pasta along with chopped parsley and extra cheese.
Many thanks to Tamara for her recipe and for the work she’s doing to support our local farmers.
Braising leeks intensifies their sweetness and is a great way to cook the baby leeks you’ll find at the farmers market. Check out this post for more great leek recipes.
Tagged as: pasta with creamy leeks and prosciutto
Leeks are sweet, versatile, and look like those enormous palm leaves that cabana boys often use to fan you with. The only downside of these alliums is their ability to store a shocking amount of sand and grit between their tightly-nested layers—leeks are buried in dirt as they grow, and they grow in layers, so each new layer catches some dirt inside as it forms. Here’s how to clean leeks the easy way, with two separate methods, depending on if you want your leeks halved or chopped—either way, you’re going to want ’em as clean as possible.
Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell.
1. Remove the Roots
Start by chopping off the bottom root of each leek with a sharp knife. You can discard this part—the tough greens can be used later to make stock, but the stringy roots hold too much dirt to be worth salvaging and repurposing.
Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell.
2. Make a Slit Down the Middle
Next, make a shallow slit down the length of the leek. Be careful not to cut all the way through the leek, but just through the outer layers. You’re going to use this slit to start peeling away layers in the next step.
Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell.
3. Start Peeling
Use that slit to begin peeling the more fibrous, tough outer laters, until you reach the lighter, more tender ones inside. Don’t worry about being too precise here—if they seem tender enough to eat, they’re fine.
You may have seen leeks at the grocery store and wondered what sort of vegetable they were.
Well, leeks are part of the onion family and, in fact, look like a giant version of green onions. However, the little green onion has a much stronger onion flavor then the leek. Another difference is that you need to cook leeks before eating them. Unlike an onion, you would not add an uncooked leek to a salad!
Leeks are a very mellow version of an onion and when cut they have a beautiful variation in color. They go from white down by the root, to a yellow center, to a really dark green at the top.
Cut the leek just below the really dark green part. Those really dark, green leaves are very tough and you don’t eat them. Like an onion, the leek has a lot of layers on the inside, except that the leek has a lot more finer layers. Each of these layers has an amazing amount of sandy grit between them. Leeks have to get washed really well to get rid of all that grit.
If you are going to cut the leaks into rings or small strips, do that first, and then put them in a bowl of cool water.
I’m using my salad spinner. The leeks will float to the top and the grit will sink to the bottom of the bowl. You will need to swish everything around a bit to make sure all the layers of leek are separated.
You can then run them through your salad spinner or just lay them out on a towel to dry off.
If you are going to cook the leek whole, you still have to cut it in half to wash it. (Or you could just make a cut half way through and spread open the leaves.) Fan out the layers with your fingers and let the water run through.
In my next post I will be making soup using these lovely leeks instead of onions!
(By the way, the leek is the national symbol of Wales!)
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