What I'm sowing for winter: leeks
I only just discovered leeks a couple of years ago. They were in a chicken pie, and they were a revelation. They sweetened the pie just so, and had none of the tough slimeyness that I remembered from previous times I'd eaten them. I had thought they were a "worthy" vegetable, like silverbeet or cabbage, something you ate because they were cheap and plentiful and healthy, not because they tasted good. Now leeks are an essential part of my vegetable gardening oeuvre, and I think I'm getting the hang of them. I make a lot of chicken pies when leeks are in season, especially this one from Nigel Slater.
Leeks (Allium porrum) are members of the onion, or allium, family, and take months and months to mature. But while they are in the soil, they are relatively low effort: you only have to mound the soil around their growing stems from time to time to keep them white and tender, and give them occasional feeds. The most important part of leek-growing is soil preparation, giving the roots plenty of organic matter to draw on during the long months they are growing.
Here are my top five tips for growing great leeks:
1. Prep the soil. Leeks don't mind moist clay soil, but do add lots of organic matter - compost, composted manure, blood and bone.
2. Grow from seed. Sprinkle seed into a tray of seed raising mix, and you'll have leeks galore. They look like blades of grass. Plant out when they are 20cm tall.
3. Plant your leeks in trenches so they can be easily mounded up as the stems fatten. This makes the stems white and tender.
4. Use a dibber or a pencil to make a dent in the soil surface to plant your seedling into. I trim the roots (which can be long and straggly) before dropping the seedling gently into the hole. Use a spray bottle to wash soil back into the hole.
5. Feed with a seaweed or composted manure tea. You don't need to wait the 100 or so days they take to mature to harvest them, I pick and cook with baby leeks throughout the winter months.
Are you growing leeks this year? What are your tips for growing them?