Leek – A Firm British Favourite

The British History of Leeks

The Leek – although the emblem of Wales – really has its origins steeped in English history, with whole towns like Leek in Derbyshire named in this vegetables honour. In Old English all vegetable gardens were called leek gardens and the name was especially connected with any member of the onion family, leaving us today with just the gar-leac! The early leeks were probably much slimmer than the leeks of today and much stronger and tastier too, but although the larger leeks are usually less pungent they are definitely a delight on the showbench, (with the variety Prizetaker you must be guaranteed a prize!).

When to sow leek seeds?

The Leek is easily grown, takes little effort and yields very good results; as such it is a must for every vegetable garden. If you are growing for vegetable shows you should plant the seeds in mid January inside and then move them on to a heated greenhouse. However for general use and without a heated green house to grow them on, now ie mid February is exactly the right time to begin sowing your leeks.

Which variety of leek should I sow?

Seed catalogues like to boost the descriptions of this vegetable to make it catch the eye of  the consumer; green leaved or blue leaved (although it makes no difference  to the taste and anyway most cooks discard the leaves anyway!), early varieties – late varieties  (although nearly all leeks are winter hardy!), long shanks, or fat ones better known as pot leeks (although the size of the leek greatly depends on the amount of nitrogen and fertilizers you dress it with!). 

How to sow leek seeds?

Whichever variety you decide to plant, I always start mine indoors on the windowsill or in the conservatory. A heated propagator will speed things up but is not essential.

tray or modules for sowing leeks
tray or modules for sowing leeks

How to sow leek seeds is the annual argument between space and time – If you have enough indoor planting space but little time, plant the seeds in modules with a couple of seeds in each module where they can stay until they are ready to be transplanted, if space is limited but time is on your hands then  plant the seeds as sparsely as possible in any suitable container – ( margarine trays are fine), and when the seedlings are at the loop stage – (which simply means that the leaf emerging from the seeds looks like a loop which is a doubled before it straightens), then transplant them in modules to a cooler place. By mid March they are definitely ready to go in a cold greenhouse, and when the seedlings are pencil thick or 15cm. high they can be planted in their final position in the ground.

Growing leeks on outside

Good soil will always produce better results;  make a hole with a dibber and after trimming the leek slightly,  top and bottom, drop each leek in a single hole set approximately 20 cm. apart. Dapple the hole with water (not soil) to settle them in, the top of the leek should be just at ground level. One can add soil around them as they grow (earthing up) to blanch the stem further. Now, apart from a bit of weeding between the rows and adding a top dressing of a high nitrogen feed you can sit back and wait for your crops to grow.

Some varieties will be ready as baby leeks (very tasty!) in June and they can be picked from then until late March. Most varieties will overwinter well in the ground – towards the end of winter they begin to bolt – to produce a flower stem in the centre, it is best to discard this stem in the kitchen, but the leaves around the stem are still edible.

over wintered leeks growing on the allotment
over wintered leeks growing on the allotment

Leek Harvesting Tip

When harvesting leeks-  as the roots are very firm in the ground never try to pull them out of the ground as this will snap the stem, always dig around them to their full depth and yank them out.

Leeks In the Kitchen

leek salad
leek salad

Leek Soup Recipe

Leeks are always a tasty ingredient in every soup, but I will share with you my wife’s recipe for her simple and special ‘leek soup’:

Ingredients:  1 large leeks, 1 onions, 2 medium courgettes, a  smear of oil, 2 medium potatoes salt and pepper to taste.

Method:  sauté onions in oil until soft, add remaining ingredients and cook on a low flame allowing it to make its own juice for 45 min. Cover well  with water, bring to the boil and leave to cook for an hour, add the salt and pepper to taste, now blend the whole soup in a blender to a medium thick puree. Serve piping hot .(Serves 6)

Leeks are also excellent served cold in a sharp winter salad:

Leek Salad:

1 Medium leek , Cherry tomatoes,  Baby corn cob- nuggets(tin) or cashew nuts.

Slice leek thinly , halve the tomatoes, mix all the ingredients and add 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, add salt to taste.

Sowing my leek seeds is always the pleasing sign that spring has (nearly ) arrived.

Happy Gardening

Boris Legarni .