growing leeks at home
Leeks are an intensive-agriculture product, which is why the leeks in US stores are horribly expensive and most of them are more green than white. The growers don't want to spend the time needed to do better.
I went a bit overboard in the 2013-2014 growing season and planted about 350 leek plants in the backyard garden. I ate A LOT of leeks in 2014. :-)
There are many different cultivars available online. I like winterhardy long-growing varieties that give the plant time to grow long stems.
Leeks are usually quite winterhardy—some varieties more than others of course—but don't do very well in the desert summer heat. Give them some shade or they might just die off and go dormant until it next spring, like perennial leeks do.
Pic1: my leek patch in April 2014, only about half are left.
Pic2: leek seedlings started indoors mid-April
Pic3: 2013-06-25 1st transplantation
Pic4: 2013-09-01 getting bigger
- I started the seedlings indoors mid-April 2013, close together in shallow trays.
The seeds will not germinate outdoors once the temperatures got to 95 ºF.
- Harvest when 8-10" high.
- Trim the roots to 1/4", trim the leaves to 5-6"
- Trimming the leaves prevents leaf die-back which can kill the entire plant when the leaves rot.
- This gives uniform size of seedlings which is easier to handle.
1st transplantation in a raised garden box:
- Use a broom handle to make 5" holes in a 1" grid pattern.
Professional growers have a tool that has pins to do this perfect every time.
I approximated this by nailing 20 pieces of broom handles on a plank.
- Carefully drop 1 leek plant in each hole. Make sure the plant is all the way down in the hole.
- IMPORTANT: Do not fill the hole.
- When all the seedlings have been planted, use a garden hose with gentle rain attachment to sprinkle from above. This will wash enough dirt into the holes to cover the roots and keep them moist, but leaves most of the plant in the light. Covering too much right away might cause the young plant to rot.
- Further watering will gradually fill in the holes and cover the stem to bleach it.
- Harvest when the plants have a pencil-thick stem. The plant should be 18" high by then.
Be very careful. Kinked stems will not recover.
Pic5: trim roots and leaves again, transplant 2nd time
Pic6: 2013-10-04 = second transplantation in trenches for winter and spring harvest
Pic7: 2014-02-22 after the winter, the leeks have been heaped up, trenches have been reversed
- After harvesting, inspect the plants, discard any damaged or underdeveloped plants.
- Wash and trim the roots at 1/2" length to make replanting easier.
- Trim the leaves at 1-ft. length or more if they are taller.
Again, this prevents leaf die-back and rotting.
Second transplantation in definitive location:
- Dig trenches 6" deep, with 1 1/2 ft. distance between trenches.
I used the berms between the leek rows to plant winter garden crops and as a walkway without disturbing the leek plants.
- Use a 1" spade handle to make 10" deep holes at 6" distance in the lowest part of the trenches.
That gives 16" total depth.
- Drop 1 leek plant in each hole. Make sure the leek plant is down all the way.
There should be 2-4" of green sticking out above the hole.
- Do NOT fill in the holes.
- Again water with a gentle rain attachment to cover the roots without filling in the holes. That will happen gradually.
- When the leek plants have recuperated and start growing again, flood the trenches to water less frequently.
- Gradually the trenches will fill in by the repeated watering.
Pic9: 2014-03-22: heap it high
Pic10: 2014-03-24: harvesting the last ones
- After harvesting the companion crops between the leek rows, start heaping up dirt against the leek plants by digging new trenches between the leek rows. (Pic7-9)
- Don't be afraid of covering the lower part of the green leaves. This will force the leek to grow upwards and make the stem longer.
- The part of the stem under the ground will bleach to white if it has been covered long enough.
- If you have a long-growing variety, you can get white stems of close to 2 ft. long that way.
Some short-growing varieties may never grow more than 6" of stem.
- Just like onions, leeks are bi-annuals, meaning they will bloom in that 2nd year if you've kept them through the winter. Be sure to harvest before the flower stalks start forming. The stalk is woody and sucks the plant dry. Once the stalk forms, the leek is no use for the kitchen anymore, but keep a few like that to collect enough seeds for the next growing season.
- This may be easy if the stems are fairly short. It will be hard work if the stems are over 1 ft. in length.
- Use a long spade or fork that allows you to dig underneath the root bulb. If the stems are too long, dig a narrow trench right next to the leek row.
- Push the spade at a slight angle underneath where you expect the root bulb to be.
Work the spade to loosen the ground and gradually lift the leek plant upwards.
- Once the ground is broken up enough, it may be possible to lift the plant by pulling on the stem.
BEWARE: thin-stemmed leeks may break and leave a piece behind in the ground.
- If necessary dig all the way underneath the root bulb that you can remove the leek plant without damaging it.
- Shake or beat the leek against the ground to remove most of the dirt.
Pic11: don't take the mud indoors
Pic12: I use only leek whites
Pic13: blanched, ready for the freezer.
- Whenever I harvested these garden-grown leeks, I hosed them down, cut off top and bottom and sliced them open to wash some more. It is not a good idea to wash all that dirt down into the kitchen sink. It is very difficult to remove from the septic tank.
- Cut stems halfway through to rinse thoroughly between the leaves. Cut into small pieces and rinse, wash again. (Pic12) Leeks pick up a lot of dirt from the heaping and that can get quite deep into the stem.
- I have tried canning leeks, but not with good results. They went all mushy and lost a lot of the typical leek flavor.
- Instead, I started freezing the leek. (Pic13)
- Submerge the leeks in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute before packaging to kill any bugs and bacteria that might still be hiding in there = blanching.
- Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for long-term storage.
Leeks are one of the easiest vegetables to regrow. It most certainly is the one vegetable with the highest success rate to a new fully-grown plant.
Pic14: leek stumps with roots
Pic15: 1 week later
Pic16: 1st row = regrown leeks, 2nd row = elephant garlic
- If you can find them, buy leeks that still have some roots at the bottom. They recuperate a lot faster.
- Leeks with the root plate removed completely are not suitable for this.
- Cut off the root bulb and eave at least 3/4 to 1" of the white above the roots.
It may work with a shorter stump, but it takes longer for the plant to recuperate.
- Allow the cutting marks to dry for 24 hrs.
Usually, the center leave will already start pushing out.
- Place the leek stumps in a container with a little bit of water.
Keep the water below the root plate if there are roots visible. Having the leaves submerged may cause the plant to rot.
- I had better results when I kept the stumps on water than when planting them in dirt right away.
- Stumps with roots have a 7-day advantage over stumps where the roots had been cut off at the root plate.
- One to two weeks is all that's needed for about 1 ft. regrowth. Replant when 18" high.
- Plant in definitive location in a hole 1 ft. deep in a trench to get the best results.