- Harvesting Leek Plants: Tips On When And How To Harvest Leeks
- When to Harvest Leeks
- How to Harvest Leeks
- Harvesting Leeks
- Your comments and tips
- How to Chop Leeks
- How to Slice a Whole Leek
- How to Rinse Cut Leeks
- How to Slice Halved Leeks
- How to Cook Leeks
- Recipes with Leeks
- How To Cut Leeks
- HOW TO CUT LEEKS | 1-MINUTE VIDEO
- How To Select Leeks:
- How To Store Leeks:
- How To Cook Leeks:
- Favorite Leek Recipes:
- History of Leeks
- How To Clean Leeks
- 7 Ways to Store Leeks
- Harvesting and Preserving Leeks
- Leeks: Quick Care Guide
- What Are Leeks?
- Recommended Leek Varieties
- Planting Leeks
- How To Care For Leeks
- Harvesting And Storing Leeks
- Frequently Asked Questions
- How To Grow Leeks
- Sowing Leeks
Harvesting Leek Plants: Tips On When And How To Harvest Leeks
Leeks are members of the onion family, but instead of forming a bulb, they form a long shank. The French sometimes refer to this nutritious vegetable as the poor man’s asparagus. Leeks are rich in vitamins C, A, and folate, and they also contain kaempferol, a phytochemical believed to help prevent cancer. Let’s learn more about picking leek plants in the garden to take advantage of all they have to offer.
When to Harvest Leeks
Most leeks mature 100 to 120 days after sowing the seeds, but a few varieties mature in as few as 60 days. Begin the harvest when the stalks are about an inch across. Depending upon your climate, you could be harvesting leek plants from late summer until early spring. Picking leek plants that mature at different times of the year lets you extend the harvest.
Leeks are best used fresh, but if you must store them, wrap them in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days. Smaller leeks keep longest, so use the large ones first. Don’t trim them until you are ready to use them.
How to Harvest Leeks
Harvest leeks from loose soil by pulling them up. Pulling them out of heavy soil can injure the roots. Use a garden fork to reach under the roots and lift them from heavy clay soil. Shake the plants and brush off as much soil as possible and then rinse them thoroughly. Slice leeks in half lengthwise immediately before use and rinse out any remaining soil.
Begin the garden leek harvest early by cutting a few of the leaves before the plant is ready to harvest. Use a sharp knife to cut the leaves from the plant. Harvesting too many leaves stunts the plants, so take just a few leaves from each one.
Leeks have a limited storage life, but you can overwinter part of the crop in the garden. As winter weather approaches, hill up the soil around the plants and cover them with a thick layer of mulch. Use this method to extend the harvest and enjoy fresh leeks well into winter. Some varieties overwinter better than others. Look for varieties such as ‘King Richard’ and ‘Tadorna Blue’, which are bred for overwintering.
Now that you know when and how to harvest leeks in the garden, you can enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
In the past I have grown ‘Giant Musselburgh’ and ‘King Richard’ leek varieties with good results. However, this spring I could only locate transplants of Allium porrum ‘Lancelot’ that I bought from Dixondale Farms. They post this on their website, “When we were notified of King Richard leek seed no longer being produced, we quickly chose this variety for its replacement. The long, white shafts have a dark blue/green upright flag. The 12 to 14 inch shaft provides a distinct flavor to your soups and salads.” From a taste standpoint, they are very good. As to quality and quantity of the harvest, I was a bit disappointed BUT I can only fault my glue-like clay soil and not the variety. My soil has had very little amendments added in the short time I’ve lived here.
I set out about 90 leek transplants this spring, and have already pulled many to cook as they matured over the summer. Normally I leave any remaining leeks in the ground under heavy straw mulch for winter, and just dig them as needed, even if they are under snow and ice. However, I want to add a lot of amendments to that bed this fall, so it seemed I should harvest all of them now.
|Leek bed||Dig under leek||Lift gently|
Leeks may be pulled anytime after they are as big around as your thumb. If you have good loose soils, leeks may be easily pulled by hand, grasping each one down near the base and tugging gently. In my clay soil, loosening the soil under them first with a garden fork or a pitchfork made the job easier. As you dig or pull them, you may find a few that have started to grow a new leek inside or just beside the old one. That lateral growth it a means of multiplying and I pull and discard those. They are too small for this year and won’t get large enough in my zone to over-winter well in the ground.
Once your leeks are harvested, you may rinse off the dirt from the roots, but do not trim the roots. Trim the tops to just where the leaves start to become tough. If you are going to refrigerate a few, you should trim the roots and tops; they will keep nicely for about a month. All the tender part of the leek bulb (not all leeks actually have a bulb) and stalk is edible. Some folks prefer to use only the white portion, just as some use only the white portion of spring onions. As I slice a leek from the root end up to the end of the white part, I remove tough outer leaves and slice more of the pale yellow-to-light green centers, removing more tough leaves as I go. Some leeks may have a hard center core, which I discard. I always thought that hard core was from ”old” leeks but I have also seen it in young leeks.
Since I am going to store my leeks for a month or two (or longer if they keep well) in my root cellar, here’s how I prepared them: Place 2 to 3 inches of peat in a bucket or tub (depending on how many leeks you have) and dampen the peat. Clean sand or sawdust will also work. Do not get the peat too soggy, which will rot the leeks. Stand the leeks with the roots on the peat, pushing the roots down into the peat a tad. You could add a bit of damp peat over the tops of the leek roots but I don’t as long as I have good contact between root and peat. Keep the leek bulb/stalk above the damp peat. Leeks will keep growing, just very slowly, rather than becoming totally dormant. Trim the tops if you haven’t done so already. Store the bucket of leeks in a cool, dark place with some humidity. If your storage room is dry, you should check the moisture in the peat occasionally. I do not trim any of the outer leaves before storing unless it’s just a few for the refrigerator. Those old leaves will protect the leeks and are discarded later when you use the leeks.
|Damp layer of peat||Leeks placed on damp peat||Ready to store|
Leek seed heads can be cut when the seeds appear black inside the tiny ‘flowers’. I saved these seed heads and will shake out the seeds as soon as they are fully dry. As they are drying, I shake them around a bit to keep them well-aired. You could also dry them on a screen, or a paper plate. I have many seed heads, and chose to dry them in an open container to catch all the seeds as they ripen. Most leeks set seed, but not all leeks come true from seed. My suggestion is to try them if you have grown your own leeks. The only investment is your time.
|Leek scapes||Mature leek seedhead||Seedheads drying|
A Few Leek Cultivars
Leeks fall into Early (Short) Season, Mid Season, Late Season, and Extra-Late Season categories. Early-season (like ‘Varna’, ‘King Richard’, ‘Columbus’, and ‘Rival’) leeks will mature in 50 to 80 days from seed. Mid-season (such as ‘Dawn Giant’, ‘Jolant’, ‘Lancelot’, ‘Splendid’, and ‘Albinstar Baby Leek’) leeks mature from 98 to 110 days. Late-season leeks take 120 to 135 days to maturity (varieties like ‘Otina’, ‘Titan’, ‘Durabel’, ‘Bandit’ and ‘American Flag’). The extra-late season leeks like ‘Giant Musselburgh’ and ‘Laura ‘are extremely hardy, needing 150 to 180 days from seed to maturity. I expect to experiment with several cultivars to grow here where I have colder winters, looking for the best for my soil and zone. There are many more leek cultivars than I mentioned above. Look for seed saver groups that may have others not commercially available.
You should set out leek transplants as soon as your day temps warm to 45º F or slightly more (they like being cool), which means starting seeds EARLY in January for a summer crop. There is one important and different thing to do when growing leeks: Dig a trench at least 5 to 7 inches deep and then plant the transplants in the bottom. As the leeks grow, fill in the trench an inch or so every couple of weeks. This effectively blanches the stalks as they grow, giving you more of the desirable white portion. You can start with putting the transplants 2 inches or more deep in the soil. It won’t kill them!
Do not plant your leeks near legumes as leeks inhibit the growth of beans and peas. Leeks do grow well with other vegetables, especially carrots, beets and celery.
One of my favorite leek dishes is the ubiquitous Vichyssoise, but I use a lot more of my leeks sautéed in dishes calling for onions. Leeks taste like a mild, sweet onion to me, and add something almost elusive to a dish.
Pork Loin with Leeks
2 pound boned pork loin (I use tenderloin)
salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine (I use a good dry vermouth)
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 pounds leeks
1 tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350º F. Cut pork into 6 thick steaks, sprinkle with salt & pepper. Brown thoroughly in a casserole with olive oil and garlic, about 4 to 5 minutes each side. Add wine and tomatoes; cover and simmer 15 minutes. Clean leeks, split, and slice. Remove pork from casserole, add leeks, cover and cook gently 5 minutes. Put pork on top of leeks, cover and cook in oven 40 to 50 minutes, until pork is tender. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Photo Credits: All photos are by the author.
Your comments and tips
Post a comment or question Display Newest first | Oldest first, Show comments for Australia | for all countries 20 Feb 19, Helena (Australia – sub-tropical climate) What type/variety of leek is best suited for Sydney South West area? 22 Feb 19, Michael (Australia – temperate climate) Look up some varieties on the net and pick one and try it. 08 Feb 19, Charlotte (Australia – cool/mountain climate) I have grown leeks but found that they often have a hard inedible inner stalk when harvested. What have I done wrong? 11 Feb 19, Oliver (Australia – temperate climate) Have you let them flower? My experience is once they send up that flower stalk.. that is the woody centre stalk. You need to harvest before this happens. Otherwise you just have to slice along the leek and pull this stalk out and use the softer outside bits in a stew or tart. Leek and fetta tarts are awesome:) 10 Feb 19, Mike (Australia – sub-tropical climate) Could be dryness. Try and have a consistent soil moisture. Check plant and harvest times. 10 Nov 18, Leeanne newnam (Australia – temperate climate) When do leeks go in and how long till they harvest, is it summer or winter? 12 Nov 18, Mike (Australia – temperate climate) Read the notes here – it is all there. I’d suggest you plant them in Autumn and pick them about 5 mths later. 10 Sep 18, Gail (Australia – sub-tropical climate) When do I plant leeks on the mid North coast? 25 Sep 18, Graham (Australia – temperate climate) I planted leeks in April at wauchope on the mid north coast and they were slow at first but have done very well since. We had plenty of frosts in July and August however this didn’t seem to effect them. 11 Sep 18, Mike (Australia – sub-tropical climate) Go back to the leek page, set your climate to sub tropical – then look at the year monthly calendar – S plant seeds – T transplant seedlings. Showing 1 – 10 of 93 comments
How to Chop Leeks
What Are Leeks?
A relative of both garlic and onion, leeks are cylindrical stalks with layered green leaves. They look like a larger version of a scallion and have a mild flavor that adds distinction to many recipes. Leeks are a favorite of the British, French, and Italians, who have countless ways of serving the vegetable; however, whether enjoyed warm or cold, they’re usually always cooked before serving. Dirt tends to get in between the layers, so make sure you give your leeks a good rinse before using. Read on to learn how to prep leeks for many kinds of leeks recipes.
Purchasing and Storing Leeks
Leeks are generally available year-round. They should be crisp and healthy looking. Those smaller than 1-1/2 inches in diameter are more tender than larger ones. Store leeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
How to Slice a Whole Leek
If your leeks recipe calls for slicing whole leeks into rings, follow these directions:
1. Place the leek on a cutting surface. Using a chefs knife or large knife, cut a thin slice from the root end. Cut the dark green, tough leaves off the end and discard. Remove any wilted leaves from the remaining light-color section. You now have the section of the leek that is tender and best for cooking. Hold the leek with one hand and cut it into slices with desired thickness using the chefs knife.
2. After chopping leeks, be sure to rinse them thoroughly.
How to Rinse Cut Leeks
Here are two ways to rinse cut leeks:
- Place the slices in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Drain the slices on paper towels before using.
- Place the slices of cut leeks in the strainer of a salad spinner and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Spin the cut leeks in the salad spinner until they’re dry.
How to Slice Halved Leeks
Another popular way to use a leek is to slice it in half lengthwise, all the way through the root end, with a chefs knife. Some recipes call for halved leeks. This is also the first step before chopping or slicing into half-moon shapes.
Here’s how to prep leeks for a leeks recipe that calls for halved leeks:
1. Follow directions above for trimming the root ends and cutting away the dark, tough leaves.
2. Using a chefs knife, cut leeks in half lengthwise all the way through the root end.
3. Before using the leek halves, wash them thoroughly to remove any dirt from between the layers. Hold each leek half under the faucet with the root end up. Rinse the leek under cool running water, separating and lifting the leaves with your fingers to make sure the dirt is flushed out. Drain on paper towels.
The above steps are the first steps to take if your leeks recipe calls for slicing leeks into half-moon shapes. To cut leeks into half moons, place each rinsed and drained half, cut-side down, on a cutting surface. Hold the leek half with one hand and use a chefs knife to cut leeks crosswise, cutting them into slices with desired thickness.
Some recipes call for slicing leeks into long, thin, narrow strips. To cut leeks into long strips, follow the steps above, except slice the leeks lengthwise (rather than crosswise).
How to Cook Leeks
After chopping leeks and rinsing them well, you can use them in many ways. Although leeks are sometimes the star of the dish, usually cut leeks are used much like chopped onions: as an ingredient to enhance the flavors of the overall dish.
If you want to experiment using cut leeks in recipes for soups, stews, and casseroles, start by cooking leeks in butter, olive oil, or cooking oil. Here’s how to cook leeks for use in other recipes:
- Start by chopping leeks (either into rings or half-moons) and cleaning them as instructed above.
- Heat butter, olive oil, or cooking oil in a skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. (Use about 1 tablespoon of butter or oil per 1-1/3 cup leeks). Cook leeks, stirring 2 to 3 minutes or until leeks are tender. Add to your recipe.
Recipes with Leeks
Wondering what to make with leeks? Once you’ve learned how to prep leeks, and you’ve tasted their mellow onion-garlic flavor profile, you’ll want to cook all kinds of recipes with leeks—swirled into soups, stews, and stir-fries or added to savory tarts and vegetable gratins. These recipes with leeks will get you started.
Greek Leeks and Shrimp Stir-Fry
Leeks with Tomatoes and Olive Oil
Short Ribs with Leeks
Grilled Salmon and Leeks with Rosemary Butter
Herbed Leek Tart
Mushroom, Leek & Seafood Chowder
Apple, Bacon & Leek Bread Pudding
Herbed Leek Gratin
How To Cut Leeks
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Learn how to cut leeks with this quick 1-minute video tutorial! Plus, I’ve included lots of tips below for how to select, store and cook with fresh leeks.
Hey guys! I’m back with a How-To Tuesday video tutorial that has come highly requested by many of you — how on earth to cut fresh leeks!
Like many of you, we didn’t grow up using fresh leeks in our home. So when I first started teaching myself how to cook and went to the store to pick up a batch, I found myself staring blankly in the produce section with all kinds of questions. 😂 . What are good fresh leeks supposed to look like? Are they basically just huge green onions? Which parts are you supposed to eat? What’s the best way to cook them??
Well if you’ve ever had any of these questions, today’s tutorial is for you. The good news is that fresh leeks are actually incredibly easy to work with, and incredibly delicious. They have a mild onion flavor going on that’s also uniquely herbaceous, slightly sweet, and wonderfully savory. And they pair well with almost any herb, and have this magical ability to bring extra depth and flavor to any dish. I’m a huge fan of them. And interestingly, now that we’re living in Spain, leeks are absolutely everywhere here (like, literally, they’re sold in convenience stores), which is so fun! Plus, fresh leeks cost a small fraction in Europe as what they’re sold for in the US. So I’ve been cooking with them more than ever here…which probably means they’ll start showing up in more of my blog recipes more than ever…so hence, today’s tutorial is all kinds of timely.
Alright, let’s get to it and talk about how to select, store, cook, and — yes — how to cut leeks!
HOW TO CUT LEEKS | 1-MINUTE VIDEO
Check out this quick video to see my favorite method for cutting fresh leeks.
How To Select Leeks:
In general, you want to look for fresh leeks at the market that:
- have as much white and light green as possible (the leek in the cover photo isn’t a great example 😂)
- are not yellowed (aim for either white or green hues)
- are crisp and firm and fresh (not withered or mushy or very blemished)
- are in season (peak season runs from October through May, although different regions may vary slightly)
How To Store Leeks:
Fresh leeks should be stored in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator in a plastic bag. Pop them in there as soon as you bring them home from the market, and be sure that they’re nice and dry before storing. Depending on their level of freshness upon purchase, fresh leeks should last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. (Just give them a good look-over before using.)
How To Cook Leeks:
The first step in cooking with fresh leeks is always, always, always to wash them before using. Leeks are grown in the soil, which almost always sneaks in between all of those delicious layers. So as noted in the video above, be sure to always give them a good rinse before using them.
Once the leeks are cleaned and ready to go, trim off and discard the very end of the leeks (the roots). Then cut off the dark green leaves on top, which are generally not eaten but can be used to help flavor stock or broths, if you’d like. (The dark green parts can be frozen and saved for later too.)
Then, the pale white and light green parts will be ready to go! You can either:
- Eat Them Raw: Like onions, raw leeks have a pretty strong flavor. But when they are very thinly sliced, they can be a nice garnish for soups, salads, roasted veggies, meats, fishes, or other dishes. Or you can also mix them into green salads, dips, or salad dressings.
- Sauté Them: This is how I most often cook leeks — slicing then sautéing them as I would onions for various recipes. Also, if you sauté them for long enough, leeks will caramelize just like onions.
- Roast Them: This is another great option that helps add big flavor. You can either roast leeks whole, halved or sliced — so simple, and so delicious!
Favorite Leek Recipes:
- Cabbage, Sausage and Potato Soup | Gimme Some Oven
- 30-Minute Creamy Mushroom and Leek Chicken Breasts | FoodieCrush
- Creamy Leek and Pancetta Pappardelle For Two| A Beautiful Plate
- Leek and Potato Pan Roast | Cotter Crunch
- Roasted Leek and Broccoli Quinoa Salad with Almonds | Simply Quinoa
- Cauliflower and Leek Soup | Salt and Lavender
My favorite method for how to cut fresh leeks.
- 1 leek
- Rinse the leek. Then pat dry, and lay it flat on a cutting board.
- Use a knife to cut off and discard the root end of the leek. Then cut off the dark green leaves, which you can set aside to flavor broths or other recipes later.
- Carefully make a vertical slice down the center of the remaining white/light-yellow green stalk, dividing it in two. Then place the flat side of each half down on the cutting board, and thinly slice into half moons of your desired size. Or, julienne the leek into thin strips.
- Transfer the cut leeks into a large bowl of clean water. Then break them up with your fingers so that any small hidden pieces of dirt can dislodge. Rinse and drain the leeks one final time.
- Use immediately, or transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
posted on November 7, 2017 in How To’s
I love leeks. They’re one of my favorite vegetables for stir fries, salads, soups and more. They have a wonderful subtle flavor and I like the stiff texture. Here’s how you can store leeks so that you can enjoy them year-around.
The leek is a cousin of the onion, originally hailing from Central Asia. They resemble spring onions or scallions except they are bigger in size. When buying from a supermarket or harvesting in your own garden, pick out leeks that are firm and smaller than 2.5 inches in diameter. They should also have straight, lush dark green leaves. Avoid buying leaves with yellowing or wilting tops.
Leeks are in season in the fall and spring in the United States, between September and April. Depending on your preservation techniques, leeks can last between a few days to up to a year.
History of Leeks
The humble leek has a very notable history. Since ancient times, the Egyptians and later the Romans consumed this vegetable. Legend has it that the Roman emperor Nero loved eating this vegetable because he believed it would improve the quality of his voice. Since Nero has been dead a long time, this claim cannot be verified. However, it is true that leek is a superfood and is not just in high in fiber but also flavonoids, folate and polyphenols, which reduce the risk of blood vessel damage and heart conditions.
The leek was also introduced in Europe during the middle ages and is Wales’ national vegetable, depicted on the country’s national emblem. In fact, Welshmen pass down tales that the leek saved Wales during the battle of Heathfield in 633 AD.
Legend has it that a Celtic monk, David, suggested the Welsh army wear leeks on their helmets so that they could be differentiated against the Saxons. The Welsh army was victorious and the leek became a good luck charm. The monk was named as St.David or Dewi Sant. To this day, Welshmen celebrate St. David’s Day by wearing leeks on their clothes.
The cultivation of this vegetable spread to North America during the arrival of the first settlers.
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With such a rich history, it is a shame to let a distinguished vegetable, like the leek, go to waste. Here are a few options on how to preserve leaks. But first, you need to know how to properly clean them.
How To Clean Leeks
Since leeks are embedded deep into the earth, they harbor a lot of soil. Before cooking and sometimes even storing leeks, you need to ensure they are cleaned properly. To do that, cut off the root and the dark green leaves. Make a solution of one part vinegar and three part water and immerse the greens in it. The loose dirt will fall off. You can also use a soft veggie brush to scrub off some of the more stubborn dirt particles. Conversely, you can cut the leek lengthwise in half to help you get at the caked in dirt. Separate the layers under cold water and clean them out. Put the washed leeks in a colander to drain them. You can slice the vegetable and cook it up or store it.
Note: The dark green leaves are typically thrown away but some people cook them up in broth to cut down on waste.
7 Ways to Store Leeks
Depending on how fresh the leek is, the vegetable can last anywhere from five days to two weeks. Leeks can be refrigerated, frozen, canned or pickled for storage. Leeks have the best taste when they are harvested and immediately cooked and consumed.
1. In A Plastic Bag Inside The Refrigerator
When left open in the refrigerator, leeks exude a particular aroma that can permeate your fridge and be absorbed by the other stuff in your refrigerator. If you intend to you use the leeks within a couple of days, lightly wrap them up in a plastic bag, which will retain moisture and contain the odor. Do not wash, trim or cut leeks before storing. Place them in the crisper/hydrator drawer of your fridge.
However, if you expect to use the leeks several days later, a good idea is to lightly wrap them up in a damp towel and secure a rubber band around the bundle. Put it inside a perforated plastic bag, which will help it contain moisture. Then place the vegetables in the crisper drawer of your fridge. You can then use the leeks for about 10 days.
Cooked leeks are highly perishable and do not have an extended shelf life. Even when placed in the refrigerator, cooked leeks can only remain fresh up to one or two days. Smaller leeks tend to last longer than larger leeks.
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Do not wash or trim the dark leaves off the leeks before putting them in a refrigerator. This invites rot. Leeks are best stored at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 95-100 humidity. At warmer temperature, leeks lose their green color, turn yellow and start to decay. Make sure your fridge is high in humidity to prevent wilting.
When you are ready to consume the leek, cut off the root and the green leaves. Then slice the leek in half, immerse it in a vinegary solution and wash out the dirt embedded between the layers. It is then safe to cook and consume.
2. In the Freezer
🔥 TIP: !
If you have a lot of leeks that can’t be stored in a refrigerator, you can freeze them. First, you need to cut off the dark green leaves, the root and slice the leek in half. Next, thoroughly wash the leeks and then cut them into half-moon shaped slices.
A lot of people place the slices in zip-lock bags and let the vegetables freeze. However, the best way is to first boil some water, put a pinch of salt in it and blanch the leeks for 30 seconds to a minute. Blanching before freezing ensures the leeks do not lose their green color.
There are two ways you can freeze this vegetable. The easier method involves putting the blanched leeks into a zip-lock bag and freezing them.
The second method requires a bit of patience but the results are better. Place the leak slices on a baking tray lined with a waxed paper so that they do not stick to the tray. Make sure the leeks are placed in a single layer and are not touching each other. Place them in the freezer. Once frozen, take the tray out and slide the just-frozen pieces into a zip-lock plastic bag. Freezing leeks in this way ensures they do not clump together and you can take out a handful anytime you want. This method takes time and a bigger freeze space for the tray.
You can store these leeks in the freezer for about 3 months to a year. However, frozen leeks usually lose some of their texture and taste.
3. With A Solar Food Dryer
A solar food dryer comprises a trays which sits behind a tilted polycarbonate sheeting or glass window. Below the trays is a black-painted metal shelf, which absorbs heat.
You can wash the leeks, slice them thinly and place it on the tray in the solar food dryer in a single layer. The food dryer will use the energy of the sun to dehydrate the leeks. The cool air will enter a vent at the bottom, will be warmed by the sun’s rays through the glass or polycarbonate sheeting and the warm air will escape outside the top vent, taking moisture with it.
Good polycarbonate screens can allow as much as 80% of sun exposure and the temperature can rise to cooking within a few minutes and can reach 100 to 150 degrees. In a few hours, the leeks will be dehydrated and you can use them throughout the winter.
4. Store Leeks in Water
Rather than refrigerating leeks, you can store them in water, if you intend to consume them within a day or two. Take a large jar and place cold water in it. Then put the leaks into the water. The leeks will stay fresh for two days. Just ensure the temperature in your kitchen is not too hot or humid, otherwise the leeks may wilt. If it is, place them in another cool, dry, airy space.
5. In Canning Jars
Take a pot, large enough to hold all of the leeks. Fill it with water, add a pinch of salt and bring it to boil. Also prepare a large bowl of ice water, large enough for the leeks. Then take the leeks and cut off most of the dark green leaves, leaving one-fourth inch of the greens on each stalks.
Place the leeks in the boiling water and blanch them for 30 seconds. Then quickly remove them and put them in the ice water to stop them from cooking further. Drain the vegetables on the colander and once completely dry, put them inside a canning jar.
Take a saucepan and heat a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorn, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, red chili flakes, thyme and water. Once the water is boiled and the sugar is completely dissolved, take the mixture off the heat and pour it immediately on the leeks in the canning jars.
Close the lids tightly and allow the mixture to cool completely. Then store the mixtures inside the refrigerator. You can use these leeks for the next two or three months.
6. In a Root Cellar
Keep your leeks heavily mulched in the garden until winter comes and the ground hardens. Then carefully dig up the vegetables, making sure they are intact. Take a deep bucket, fill it soil and then place the leeks upright inside the earth. The optimum temperature in your root cellar should be 32 degree Fahrenheit. These stored leeks can last three to four months. Some of the best varieties of leek to preserve in root cellars are Arena leeks, Giant Musselburgh leeks, Nebraska leeks, Elephant leeks and Zermatt leeks.
7. By Cooking In Olive Oil
Wash your leeks thoroughly using the method given above and then slice the vegetable into half moon shapes. Then take some olive oil and cook the sliced leeks in it. Once done, place them in a container and freeze.
Alternatively, you can also make a leek puree. Blanch the leaves and blend the leaves, leeks and bulb in a food processor. Remember to add a good amount of extra-virgin olive oil so that it purees smoothly. Once done, take out ice cube trays and fill them with the leek oil. Then freeze the oil before popping out each cube and placing them into zip-lock bags or container. This is a great idea for when you want to flavor your stew or soups with leek. This way, you can just take out a couple of cubes and let them melt in your food during the cooking process.
You can also simply pour the puree into freezer bags or container, without first putting it into ice cube trays. However, you will then have to wait for it to thaw enough to hack out chunks, when you need to cook it in food.
Leeks provide a flavorful bite to your food. With their unique combination of sulfur-containing nutrients and flavonoids, leeks should be included in your diet on a regular basis. Research recommends having at least a half cup portion of leeks daily and including at least one cup of chop leeks in your recipes.
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Categories: Food, Storage
Leeks have a long and cultured history. Some of the earliest records of leeks come from Egypt. There dried leeks were found in archeological digs as well as in carvings and drawings. They were also consumed in ancient Rome and are said to have been a favorite of the emperor Nero.
Later leeks were brought to Wales where they gained impressive notoriety. According to legend, a monk named David suggested to the Welsh that they wear leeks on their helmets to distinguish themselves from the enemy in their famous fight against the Saxons in the battle of Heathfield in 633 AD. Later that monk became St. David. To this day the Welsh still wear leeks on St. David’s Day and the leek is a Welsh national emblem.
Leeks are surprisingly easy to start from seed and plant. To start from seed you’ll need a tray full of good quality potting soil. You don’t need separate cells for leeks though they’ll do fine in cells if that’s easiest for you. Generously spread seed in the tray, lightly cover it with soil, and water them in.
Once your leeks are 6-12 inches tall, you’re ready to plant them out. To prepare your bed for leeks you’ll want nice loose soil. You can broadfork and then rake it smooth if you practice no-till. Then take a tribble (basically a handle or stick about 1 inch in diameter with a slightly pointed end) and make holes for your leeks. Generally, the farther you plant them apart the larger the leeks will grow. Aim for about 9-12 inches between each plant and row or 2-6 inches between each plant and 18 inches between each row.
Once your bed is ready, gently tease the plants apart. You don’t need to worry about keeping soil with each plant just try to avoid damaging the roots. Then place one leek in each hole, making sure the roots are touching the bottom. Do not fill the holes in. The deep holes create nice blanched, white stems and by filling them in you can get dirt between the leaves.
Once they’re all planted you should carefully water them in. Watering will stir up enough soil to cover the roots at the bottom but you should do so gently as to avoid filling in the entire hole. Once they’re established you can mulch around them with hay, straw, leaves, or grass clippings to cut down on weeds and keep the stems white.
Harvesting leeks is a bit like harvesting carrots. It’s best to loosen the soil with a garden fork before you pull them to avoid breaking them. Try to avoid spearing any, of course.
You should chop off the long roots and outer, tough leaves into a ‘V’ shape. If you’re harvesting quite a few it’s best to place them, base down in a bucket with a bit of water to help them stay fresh.
If you’re harvesting leeks from frozen ground our friend Pam Dawling recommends pouring boiling water on the base of the plants if you’re harvesting a few for immediate use.
Storage & Eating
One of the best ways to store leeks is by just leaving them in the garden. Winter varieties of leeks are very cold tolerant, handling temperatures down to 10°F. In many areas, they can be overwintered in the garden providing fresh produce when little else is coming in.
If you must harvest your leeks you can store them fresh in the refrigerator or in wet sand in a root cellar. Leeks can also be dehydrated or frozen. To dehydrate you want to slice them into thin pieces and dry them in a single layer in a dehydrator. You can freeze leeks the same way on a cookie sheet before transfering them to a container for easy use.
Potato and leek soup is an obvious classic but leeks are incredibly versatile. They’re milder than a regular onion and are excellent for galettes, pasta dishes, or just sauteed with some fresh greens or cabbage.
Harvesting and Preserving Leeks
We were introduced to leeks on a trip to western Ireland when our chef shared her recipe for mushroom soup. We had never grown them until recently. In March, we purchased a small Bonnie pot containing leeks. When I got ready to plant them, I realized the pot probably contained 100 plants. Following directions to plant them about 6 inches apart, I soon realized I’d be planting leeks in every one of our raised garden beds.
What are leeks anyway?
They are a member of the allium family (Allium porrum), and related to garlic, onions, shallots and scallions, although somewhat milder in flavor. They look like large scallions with a long white cylindrical stalk, small bulb and tightly wrapped, flat leaves. Sweeter and more delicate in flavor than onions, they add a subtle touch without overpowering the other flavors in a recipe.
Thought to originate in Central Asia,
leeks are now grown all around. They were prized by the Greeks and Romans for their beneficial effect upon the throat. The Roman Emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks everyday to make his voice stronger. The Romans are thought to have taken leeks to the United Kingdom, where they flourished because they can resist the cold. The Welsh have such high regard for them, the leek is one of their national symbols, along with the daffodil and the red dragon.
Ready to harvest
Our leeks have grown all summer and are now ready to harvest. One bloomed and went to seed, so we’ll have some to start with next year, but I didn’t want any more to do that. So how do you harvest leeks and have them around to use later in the year? They don’t lay out and dry like onions.
To harvest them, the first thing is to make sure you remove all the dirt. The leaves grow together tightly as overlapping blades often trapping soil and bugs as they grow. Remove the roots and cut the tough blades leaving the white and light green areas of the stalk. They can be wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in a plastic bag in refrigerator for up to a week. When ready to preserve, slice them down the center and swish them in water to continue removing soil.
Then slice the stalk halves into 1/4” semi circles, separating the layers as you go. I found mixed recommendations to blanch or not. Blanching will reduce some of the flavor, but stops enzyme activity. Spread the slices on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and allow them to dry. From here you can either flash freeze them and then pack into freezer bags and store in the freezer. They can last 6 months to a year. Or spread them on parchment paper and place them into a dehydrator (the Sun Oven® works well for this).
Dry leeks at 100ºF for 18-20 hours. The lower drying temperature helps maintain the nutritional value. They are high in vitamin K, and good sources for magnesium, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate and vitamins A & C. They have an impressive amount of polyphenols, which play an important role in supporting our body’s antioxidant and detox systems and forming connective tissue.
To use them in cooking, add frozen, directly into any recipe, saute like onions and garlic with broth or butter. Dried leeks can be added directly to any wet recipe like soups.
Irish Mushroom Soup
1 lb. mushrooms chopped
1 pt. chicken stock + 1-2 bullion cubes
4 oz onion
2 oz butter or oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 oz flour
Sweat the veggies in oil, add flour, add chicken broth and stock cubes. Cook until soft. Puree all ingredients, season to taste. Serves 4.
Mexican Potato and Leek Soup
4 Tbs unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium russet potato, peeled and chopped
8 cups chicken stock
1 dried bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup crema or sour cream
2 Tbs finely chopped chives
Olive oil for garnish
Heat butter in a 4 qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, onions, and potato, and cook, stirring occasionally, until potato is very tender, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth, at least 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a pitcher or bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
To serve, divide chilled soup among serving bowls and dollop with a spoonful of crema, sprinkle with some of the chives, and drizzle with a couple drops of olive oil.
Makes 8-10 servings.
Braised Salmon with Leeks
2 medium leeks, cut lengthwise
4 medium cloves garlic, pressed
1 Tbs + 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbs + 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice (reserved for serving)
1 Tbs chopped tarragon
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillet cut into 8 pieces, skin and bones removed
salt & white pepper to taste
1. Cut off green tops of leeks and remove outer tough leaves. Cut off root and cut leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and rinse well under running water, leaving them intact. Cut leeks into 2 inch lengths. Now, holding the leek sections cut side up, cut length wise to make very thin strips.
2. Let leeks and garlic sit for at least 5 minutes to bring out their hidden health benefits.
3. Heat 1 Tbs broth in 10-12” stainless steel skillet. Healthy sauté over medium heat in broth for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add 1/2 cup broth and lemon juice and simmer for another 5 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
4. Rub salmon with 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, salt and white pepper.
5. Stir fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper into leeks, and place salmon on top of leeks. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, covered, or until salmon is pink inside. Serve leeks topped with salmon and drizzle with reserved lemon juice. Serves 4.
4 large leeks, tough leaves discarded and trimmed to about 6 inches in length
3 Tbs butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch pepper
Using a sharp knife, trim most of the roots off the end of the leek, leaving enough so that the leek remains attached at the bottom. Cut each leek lengthwise into halves and then cut each half into inch long pieces. Soak leeks in a large bowl of cool water to allow any dirt to settle to the bottom.
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with thyme and cook one minute more.
Add stock, reduce heat to medium low. Braise the leeks, covered, for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Billie Nicholson, Editor
Luscious, delicious leeks! They’re on every fine chef’s menu somewhere. In the UK, they’re a staple part of the daily diet, and they appear heavily in Asian cuisine as well. Leeks are found in the most elegant dishes and at the finest restaurants.
But they’re also in the finest of gardens, too. Today, we look at the leek, explore some of the diversity of this allium, and learn the best way to cultivate these culinary delights. Leeks aren’t anywhere near as intimidating as they appear, and they’re well worth the time and effort spent growing them!
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Leeks: Quick Care Guide
|Common Name||Leek, wild leek, broadleaf wild leek, King Richard leek, Hannibal leek, Roxton leek, Varna leek, Megaton leek, Dawn Giant leek, Pandora leek, Runner leek, Striker leek, American Flag leek, Lancelot leek, Surfer leek, Bandit leek, Giant Musselburgh leek, Blue Solaise leek, Carentan leek, Jolant leek, Tadorna leek, and many others|
|Scientific Name||Allium ampeloprasum and related cultivars|
|Germination Time||Variety-dependant, generally 8-16 days|
|Days to Harvest||Variety dependant, 80-130 days|
|Light||Partial to full sun|
|Water||Regular watering, moist soil|
|Temperature||60 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal|
|Humidity||Humidity okay but not required|
|Soil||Light to hard-packed soil, nitrogen-rich|
|Fertilizer||Compost-amended soil. Can also use fish emulsions or kelp-based liquid fertilizers or a slow-release granular fertilizer.|
|Pests||Leek moth, thrips|
|Diseases||Rust, powdery mildew, white-tip disease|
What Are Leeks?
A cross-cut of leeks, showing their multiple onion-like layers. Source: woolcarderbee
By now, you’re probably asking exactly what is a leek? The leek vegetable is a part of the allium species of the lilaceae family. This is the same family of plants that encompasses onions, garlic, chives and many other pungent species. Like the onion, a leek grows in layers, although it is most similar to the green onion in that regard.
Where do leeks grow? That’s also a common question. The leek has a long history.
Originally cultivated in central Asia, it spread throughout Europe due to its tasty nature. Eaten by the Egyptians and the Romans, it rapidly established footholds in most cuisines of Europe and northern Africa. Later, it came to the New World with the settlers, taking its place in the Americas.
These tasty vegetables have a subtler flavor than the onion, and are often compared to scallions. However, they tend to be quite mild, unlike their more pungent relatives.
Recommended Leek Varieties
The ‘American Flag’ variety of leeks. Source: Lorin Nielsen
Early Season Leeks
|Variety||Growing Time||Description||Where To Buy|
|King Richard||75 days||Very popular. Pale-green slender shafts. Tolerates light frosts.||Buy Seeds|
|Hannibal||75 days||Thick stalks that are pure white, dark green leaves.||Buy Seeds|
|Roxton||85 days||Uniform stalks. Does not bulb. Bright green leaves.||Can be hard to find.|
|Varna||80 days||Long, slender shafts that are often harvested early for best flavor.||Buy Seeds|
|Megaton||90 days||Blue-green leaves. Thick leeks, very similar to late season varieties.||Buy Seeds|
|Dawn Giant||98 days||Gigantic leeks! Often used for competition.||Buy Seeds|
|Pandora||90 days||Very uniform, non-bulbing. Blue-green leaves.||Buy Seeds|
|Runner||105 days||Deep blue-green leaves, very erect, easy to cultivate.||Buy Seeds|
|Striker||86 days||Very easy to clean. Long, thick shaft. Disease-resistant.||Buy Seeds|
Late Season Leeks
|Variety||Growing Time||Description||Where To Buy|
|American Flag||105 days||Grows extremely well. Frost-resistant strain.||Buy Seeds|
|Lancelot||95 days||Reliable and classic variety. Rich green leaves.||Buy Seeds|
|Surfer||115 days||Disease and pest resistant variety with clean white stalks. Blue-green leaves.||Buy Seeds|
|Bandit||100 days||Extremely cold-tolerant. Minimal bulbing.||Buy Seeds|
|Giant Musselburgh||105 days||Very old variety. Super-thick stems and cold-tolerant.||Buy Seeds|
|Blue Solaise||110 days||French variety, leaves are blue-green but turn purplish after a cold snap.||Buy Seeds|
|Carentan||130 days||Old European variety that is quickly becoming rare. High yields, vigorous.||Buy Seeds|
|Jolant||120 days||Winter-hardy variety with blue-green leaves and medium sized stalks.||Buy Seeds|
|Tadorna||110 days||Disease-resistant cultivar.. Overwinters in all but the coldest locations.||Buy Seeds|
Planting leeks can seem daunting, but it shouldn’t. These are surprisingly forgiving plants and are super-easy to grow!
When To Plant Leeks
There are two types of leek plants: early season, and late season.
Early-season leek varieties are generally planted in the spring for harvest in the late summer or early fall. These tend to be quicker-growing cultivars. They’re often smaller than late-season species and tend to be even milder in flavor. Some of these varieties are harvested as baby leeks for culinary use.
Late-season leeks are also planted in the spring, but they’re harvested in late fall and even into winter. These varieties take longer to grow. They’re also cold-hardy and can tolerate gradual temperature changes. A few varieties can be planted in the late spring for fall/winter harvest.
Most leeks can be planted anytime after the last frost has passed. If you’re direct-seeding them, you can do so about four weeks before the final frost, and they will come up in the spring.
Where To Plant Leeks
A field of leeks with soil mounded up around the stalks. Source: cobaltfish
If you are planting from seed, it’s best to start leeks in the late winter using a seedling heat mat and grow light. This gives them the warmth that they need to germinate. It also ensures that they have ample light even in the darker months of the year.
You can direct-sow leeks after the danger of frost has ended. However, direct seeding for the leek plant can be tricky, as they don’t like being planted deep and spring rains can wash the seed away. If you opt to do this, it’s generally best to have some sort of cover protecting your garden until the leeks have sprouted.
Plant in tilled rows or in a raised bed. You can also use them as an edible ornamental, as their fan-shaped structure lends itself well to flower backdrops. Be sure that wherever you plant them, the soil is amended to at least 12″ deep with a good amount of compost for best growth.
You can also grow leeks in containers. If doing this, be sure to space them out a bit. One thing leeks do like is a little bit of room for their roots to spread. While they will still grow well in clusters of 2-3 plants, much more than that and they won’t thrive.
When growing leeks in containers, it’s also important to be sure the soil stays moist. You will also want a wide and deep enough container to allow for mounding soil around the stalks to blanch them.
How To Plant Leeks
Once you have young seedling leek plants, there are a few options that you can use to plant them. My personal favorite is the hole method.
When you start your leeks, you can germinate multiple plants in a single seedling starter tray. When they’re ready to transplant, take clumps of leeks and gently swish their roots around in a bucket of water. This makes the soil separate from the roots. You can then carefully separate the clumps of leeks into individual plants.
Make a 4-6″ deep hole using a shovel handle or wide stick. Gently set a seedling into it, making sure the tips of the leaves are above the soil level. Sprinkle a tiny dusting of soil around to cover the root. Don’t fill the hole in completely, as nature can handle that. Just be sure the roots themselves are covered. The leek will grow just fine.
If you have lots of plants, you can use the trenching method. Make a long, deep trench. Place a leek in it and push the soil around it, covering the roots. Use just enough soil to keep your plant upright. As the leek grows, push more soil around it to keep the stalk covered. Continue adding soil over time, keeping the stalk covered to promote blanching.
How To Care For Leeks
Young leeks coming up in the spring. Source: mrvklaw
For the most part, a leek can take care of itself just fine. However, if you want to have the most flavorful stalks, here’s the best way to ensure a tasty harvest.
Partial shade is ideal, but the leek will also handle full sun just fine. However, to get that pure white stalk that we love to eat, the stalk itself must be shielded from the sun so it blanches.
While the ideal temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, leeks tend to be fine in most weather. Most varieties are tolerant of heat as long as they have plenty of water. Long-growing, cool-season varieties can survive most light frost conditions. You never want the plant to freeze, so it might be better to place a cold frame over them in very cold climates.
How Often To Water Leeks
This allium likes to have about an inch of water per week once it’s established. When it’s young, it needs a bit more. While the leek doesn’t like a soggy soil, keeping it consistently moist is ideal. You can also mound around the base of the plant with either soil or with mulch. This will help to keep the soil around the roots from drying out too quickly.
Soil For Leeks
Leeks enjoy nitrogen-rich and lightly-packed soil that has lots of organic matter. Before planting, work compost through your soil to a depth of about 12″. If you plan on blanching the stalks naturally by starting them deeper, amend the soil to that 12″ depth beneath the lowest point you plan on planting. This ensures that they should have plenty of food to grow on!
These are heavy feeders, but they don’t need much more than compost-enriched soil. Work compost into the ground before planting. Some blood or bone meal will also encourage them to thrive. If you want to use fertilizer, choose a slow-release balanced granular fertilizer. You can also use a liquid fish emulsion, or just add more compost occasionally.
American Flag leek producing bulbils. Source: Lorin Nielsen
You can propagate leeks by seed or by bulbil.
Most commonly, seed is used as it’s more reliable and you don’t lose leeks to the bulb-producing process. Follow the process for planting seed as shown above and you’ll have leeks.
Propagating by bulbils (sometimes referred to as pips) can be tricky. First, your leek needs to be producing bulbils along the stalk, which can be hard to identify while it’s in the ground. If you harvest a leek and find some, it’s worth trying to replant them!
Carefully separate the bulbils from their mother stalk, and then tuck the base gently into some soil to entice it to set roots. The rooting process can take a little while, but as long as the bulbil’s shoot appears to be green, you have a chance of it forming an exact clone of its parent leek.
Once you’ve separated bulbils from the parent, you can replant the parent as well to encourage it to produce more offspring. If a plant is generating a lot of bulbils, it may already be past the edible stage. A plant with only a few bulbils shouldn’t have changed its flavor noticeably.
A closeup of unblanched leeks. Notice the greenish tinge to the stalk. Source: Lorin Nielsen
You don’t generally have to prune leeks unless you want to. Some varieties such as American Flag have edible greens which can be trimmed and used in cooking. If you have a variety which doesn’t have bitter greens, you can trim a couple leaves occasionally for kitchen use. Don’t take more than two or three leaves from a given leek during its growth cycle, though!
As the leek grows, mound soil around the plants to cover the stalk up to the base of the leaves. This causes the stalk to naturally blanch. It also encourages it to grow taller. You can double your efforts by planting your leeks in a trench or hole initially, then gradually increasing the amount of soil around the leeks.
Harvesting And Storing Leeks
After all that waiting, you have a fine crop awaiting you! When to harvest leeks can be hard to decide, but let’s go over everything you’ll need to know.
Depending on the kind of leek, harvest can begin anywhere between 60 and 120 days after sowing seed. When the stalk of your leek is about an inch across, it can be harvested and used. It can be used while younger than that, but you won’t have as much produce, of course!
As long as the soil is loose, you can simply grasp at the base of a leek and give it a good tug. This will free the roots from the soil, but may damage the outermost leaf layer.
If you’re harvesting from heavier clay soil or want to prevent damage, use a digging fork to loosen the soil around and beneath the leek. Shake or dust off as much soil as you can from the produce. Try to keep the roots intact unless you are going to use it immediately, as that helps it store longer.
Cut leeks. Source: sanickels
Most leeks store incredibly well in the ground, so you can leave them in place until you need them. If you are going to overwinter leeks this way, hill up the soil around the plants and cover with a thick layer of mulch. This will keep the base of the plant warm and allow it to store in place.
Leeks, like most other onions, can be stored outside the refrigerator as long as they are in a cool, dry place. If storing your leeks, do not wash them. Instead, dust off any soil remnants and let the exterior dry out. In optimal conditions, they can store for up to three months.
If you plan on using your leeks soon, they can be stored in the refrigerator. Trim off the excess greens and wrap each leek in plastic wrap, covering it completely. Place them into a plastic bag and use within two weeks.
Leeks do not freeze well, as they turn mushy due to cell wall breakage. Similarly, canning will turn them mushy, so that isn’t an option.
These do dry quite well in a dehydrator. Slice them into fine slices and put them in a dehydrator set at 145 degrees Fahrenheit until they are crisp. Store in an airtight container out of direct light. If storing for a longer period of time, add a moisture-absorbing packet to your leeks.
One of the most common problems with these is that some people have thin or spindly leeks. The cause is overcrowding. As leeks are heavy feeders, too many in one spot will cause them all to have problems!
Be sure to thin out your leeks. Ideally, 6″ apart is a good range to aim for. You might be able to grow them closer, but you may still find them to be too thin.
Now, if you’re like me and you forget to thin them, and find that you have clumps of 2-3 growing together, fertilize them regularly. You can use a fish emulsion, kelp meal, or thick layer of compost.
I’ve also had good success making organic fertilizer tea or compost tea and using that. Some people deliberately grow this way to maximize their harvest in tight spaces.
A leek in flower. Source: lleugh
While we love to see other kinds of flowers, a lot of people dread seeing their leek flower. Flowering renders the stalk woody and causes it to go bitter and inedible. Most leek flowering comes from sudden shifts in the weather. If it was hot and then suddenly cold, this can cause your leek to panic and go to seed.
To prevent this, try to avoid massive temperature shifts. While that’s difficult (especially in some areas, like southern California where it can be 90 one day and 60 the next), it can be done. When the weather goes cold, put a cold frame over your plants before they get too chilled. Gradually allow them to acclimate to the new conditions.
Leek scapes with blossom ends starting to form. Source: kendura99
If the leek does send up a flower stalk, harvest the stalk before it blooms. Congratulations, you now have what’s called a leek scape! This tasty flower stalk can be used in cooking for a mild oniony flavor, and is actually quite prized by chefs. If you catch the scape while it’s still small, your leek will not suffer, and you’ll still be able to harvest and use it too.
In the United States, the leek is one of the few plants that is almost entirely pest-free. Like other alliums, most pests avoid the pungent onion, garlic, or leek leaves. They’re just too strong for our pests.
However, in the UK, the leek moth is a concern. The larvae of the leek moth are tiny caterpillars that tunnel into the leaf stalk to feed, causing brownish patches. Older caterpillars may tunnel directly down the center of the stalk, causing possible rotting or withering issues. After a month or so of feeding, the caterpillar will then pupate on the plant foliage.
While the leek moth is a problem, using a product that controls caterpillars such as Monterey BT will help wipe them out. You can also remove and destroy affected leek plants, which destroys the larvae inside it too. Hand-picking larvae and preventing moths by using floating row covers also works well.
There is one other pest which can attack your leeks: thrips. These small bugs can be controlled by releasing beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings into your garden. However, you should also keep the area near your leeks clear of plant debris and grass. Mulch is fine, but debris or living grass is a home for the thrips!
If your leek patch has a severe infestation of thrips, you can still save them. You can use neem oil to deter the pests. An insecticidal soap will also work in a similar fashion. A good choice would be Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap. Finally, pyrethrin-based sprays will kill thrips if nothing else works. Some good options for pyrethrin sprays include PyGanic and Take Down Garden Spray.
Leeks are mostly disease-free. The only diseases which typically impact them are those typically caused by humidity or moisture on the leaves. Thus, rust or powdery mildew can become problems, as can white tip disease.
Rust is a fungal infection that looks like orangish patches on the leaves. If you discover rust on your leek, don’t panic! Rust is generally just a cosmetic issue. As it tends to impact the leaves more than the stalk, and we prefer to eat the stalk, you can simply remove any rust patches you discover and destroy them.
To prevent rust, rotate your crops regularly so the fungus can’t take hold. You can also use a fungicide such as Safer Brand Garden Fungicide to control rust when it appears.
Powdery mildew isn’t common on leeks, but it can happen, especially if other nearby plants are suffering from it. To treat this, spray neem oil on all leaf surfaces. It should clear up very quickly.
White tip disease, also referred to as white tip of leek, is a fungal infection. It usually results from infected soil splashing up onto the leaves, and can also impact onions. While it’s far more common in the UK than elsewhere, it’s not entirely unknown in the United States. You’ll need a chlorothalonyl fungicide such as Bonide Fung-Onil to repair plants suffering from white tip.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I heard you could grow leeks from kitchen scraps?
A: You can, but only if the leek has roots still on it. Cut off the bottom of the stem, leaving at least an inch to an inch and a half of the base. Place the root end in a cup of water, and put the cup in a window where it will receive lots of sunlight.
Every day, rinse off the end of the leek and change the water. Within a week or so, you should see green shoots forming. At that point, you can plant the leek in potting soil and let it grow!
Q: Are there perennial leeks as well as annual leeks?
A: There are indeed! Perennial leeks actively form new bulbils much in the same way that a shallot does. Annuals may form bulbils, but they only really come to the forefront when the parent plant is past its prime and ready to go to seed. The flavor of perennials is slightly more onion-like than an annual leek, as well. But the majority of leeks that are commercially available are annual varieties for their distinctive flavor.
In short, if you haven’t grown this delicious staple of the chef’s table yet, you really should. It tastes absolutely wonderful in soups and stews, and it’s easy to grow. My favorite kind is the American Flag variety. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!
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How To Grow Leeks
Sow the leek seed thinly (about 2.5cm / 1in apart), as germination is usually very good, in drills about 0.5 cm (1/4 in) deep and cover the seeds with fine sifted soil. If the seeds are properly stored they will be viable for about four years, so you can keep seeds for future use. After covering the seeds, firm the soil down and water if dry. Drills should be about 15 cm (6 in) apart in the permanent bed.
Germination should take about 14-21 days and thinning should begin as soon as possible, when the pants are not more than thin green shoots, about six weeks from sowing. Thin the seedling to about 5cm (2in) the first time as some of the plants may die, and then thin again when everything seems to be going well, so that the plants are about 10 cm (4 in) apart.
There are 3 sowing dates for leeks which will give you fresh leeks from July right through till April.
- Summer and Autumn varieties: (Hannibal), Sow in modular trays in a propagator mid February for planting out in mid April.
- Autumn and Winter varieties: (Blue-green winter, Northern lights), Sow in modular trays in a propagator mid March for planting out in mid May.
- Late Winter varieties: (Blue Solaise), Sow in modular trays in early May for planting out in early June.
Sowing in Modular trays.
Use a seed compost which has a finer texture and lower nutrients than your standard multipurpose compost. We use a seed module tray with each section being approx 2 inches deep. Here’s what you do:
- Fill the seed tray with compost and brush off any excess. When filling the tray rub the compost through your hands to break up any lumps. Give the tray a sharp bang on your table to settle.
- With your fingers make small depressions in each cell about a fingernail or 1.5 cm deep.
- Sow 2 seeds per module. We want 2 leek plants per cell so don’t thin the second seedling out.
- Cover the seeds with another layer of compost then scrape across the top of the tray with a stick to remove excess.
- Gently water your seeds. A good tip is to use a plastic bottle with small holes punched in the cap. This is less likely to wash the seed around than the heavy spray from a watering can.
- Place your trays in your greenhouse, polytunnel, cold frame or windowsill to germinate. They should be ready to plant out in about 8 weeks.
By mid summer when the plants are about as thick as a pencil and 20 cm (8 in) high, they will be ready for transplanting to their permanent position. If you are able to plant during showery weather the young plants will settle more quickly, otherwise water the bed the day before if the soil is dry. To plant leeks in holes, use a thick dibber or trowel and make the holes 15 cm (6 in) deep and 15-23 cm (6-9 in) apart, depending on what size of leek you want. Make sure the holes are vertical and move the dibber about from side to side so that they are slightly larger at the top. The holes should be about 5 cm (2 in) in diameter. Cut back the roots until they are 2.5 cm (1 in) long and trim the tips of the leaves back slightly. Lower the young leeks gently into the holes and fill the holes with water. The water will wash enough soil over the base of the plant to allow it to become established. As you hoe the ground from time to time the holes will gradually fill up with soil.
Another way of growing leeks is to plant them 25 cm (10 in) apart in a trench. This method is particularly good if you have deep, fertile soil. The trench should be dug to a depth of about 30 cm (1 ft) and if there is going to be more than one trench they should be 75 cm (2 ft 6in) apart. If you try to dig the trenches too close together, the walls are likely to collapse. Put in the bottom of the trenches about 7.5 cm (3 in) of well rotted garden compost and cover it with about 15 cm (6 in) of topsoil. Carefully plant the leeks so that they are absolutely upright in the bottom of the trenches, then water in as described above.