It is now late February and time to start leeks and other members of the Allium family such as onions. Call me lazy, but I don’t start my own onion seeds anymore. Years ago, I discovered that you could buy onion plants and save yourself the aggravation. I would gladly purchase leek plants, but the variety I like (Bandit) is only offered as seeds.
Why I Choose “Bandit” Seeds
Bandit is a variety that will over-winter in the garden for harvest the following Spring. I harvest most of the crop in late fall, but leave some in the garden so that I can enjoy them in early Spring when there isn’t much else available. We celebrate the Spring leeks by making a foccacia topped with sauteed leeks. It is one of my personal favorites and something I look forward to every Spring.
How I Start my Seeds
First of all, I have an indoor seed propagation stand equipped with T5 flourscent light fixtures. This is “seed starting Central” for me. Last weekend was taken up with washing and sanitizing all of the trays, and cell type seeders that I will be using from now until mid-April. We will be starting hundreds of seeds; greens, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and flowers.
Starting with a sterile tray and sterile 1 1/2″ plug tray, I filled each of 72 cells with potting soil to within 1/4″ of the top of each cell. I gently tamped the soil and watered each cell. I then placed two leek seeds in each cell and then filled each cell to the top with a fine grain “germination mix” that will make it easier for the seeds to emerge. I then covered the entire tray with a clear plastic dome to maintain the proper moisture level.
The average temperature in the space where I keep my propagation stand is 67 degrees. At this temperature, seedlings should begin to emerge in fourteen days. Once most of the seeds are up, I will pick the strongest in each cell and snip off the others. As the leeks grow, I make sure that they have adequate moisture and fertilizer. I use a water soluble liquid fertilizer with a formula of 10-4-3.
Every couple of weeks we will trim the tops of the leeks so that they won’t get singed by the T5 bulbs. The leeks will be transplanted to the garden in mid to late May when the seedlings are about as thick as a straw.
Transplanting Leek Seedlings
There are two basic techniques for transplanting leeks. There is the “Jim Crockett’s Victory Garden” method that produces baseball bat sized leeks. This involves digging a trench 12″ deep and 12″ wide. Fill the trench about six inches high with fully rotted compost. Plant the seedlings in the compost and continue to fill the trench over time as the seedlings grow. This method works, but uses up a lot of precious compost, takes up a lot of garden space and is time consuming
I prefer the dibble method. You start by adding compost to the soil and tilling it in. While the soil is still soft and fluffy, you make holes every six inches with a dibble. You then drop a seedling into each hole. I prune the roots of each seedling so that it fits easily into the hole. Rows are also six inches apart. Given the competition for space in the garden among the other Allium crops, I find that this compact method works best for me.
Like other members of the Allium family, leeks need plenty of moisture and regular weeding. I use a “Collinear Hoe” with a 3 3/4″ blade that I bought from “Johnny’s Selected Seeds”. Designed by Elliot Coleman, the genius “Mad Scientist” of gardening, the hoe is meant to be used in an erect posture, sort of like dancing. After a little practice I have found this to be the perfect tool for weeding all of my onions, leeks, shallots and garlic patches.
Harvesting and Using Leeks
We don’t typically harvest leeks until mid to late fall. In October, I will harvest a half dozen at a time, just enough to keep up with our cooking needs. Right around Thanksgiving, I will harvest the remainder of the crop except for a small number that I will leave in the ground to over winter for Spring harvest.
We use leeks in the stuffing recipe at Thanksgiving. We are also quite fond of potato/leek soup which we make often in the late fall and early winter. Sauteed leeks with almost any other vegetable is a great side dish. Leeks are part of our gardening tradition. As long as I am able, I will save some space in the garden to grow my own leeks.
All the best,