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
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.
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.