I love onions, so if there’s any way I can extend my love of onions to other gardening endeavors, I’m going to do it.
I’ve never grown leeks before, but this year, I decided I would give it a try. Leeks are closely related to onions, but they have a milder, sweeter flavor that deepens and develops as you cook it.
Leeks are considered root vegetables, but they don’t form large bulbs like onions. Instead, you’ll eat the lower six inches of the stalk, which can be blanched so it stays super tender.
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Why You Should Grow Leeks
I’ll give you a few recipe ideas below, but one of the best reasons to grow leeks is that they are absolutely delicious! They taste great in casseroles and soups but can even be eaten raw, too.
They’re inexpensive to cultivate and don’t mind warm, dry, or cool climates. They are diverse little growers and can adapt well to just about any conditions. I also love how they look in a garden! They can fill in gaps between taller plants quite nicely.
There are all kinds of leek cultivars for you to choose from, too. Most only take about 120-150 days to mature, but there are some that are ready for harvest in as little as 90 days.
Best Leek Varieties to Grow
There are dozens of leek varieties you can grow, but some of the most popular include:
- King Richard: Ready for harvest in just 75 days, does well in hot weather.
- Giant Musselburgh: Large leek with a mild flavor that’s ready for harvest in 100 days.
- American Flag: Long And narrow with exceptionally sweet shoots. Can overwinter in mild climates or is ready for harvest in 130 days.
- Lancelot: 90-100 days to maturity, hybrid variety.
- Lincoln: Ready for harvest in just 50 days.
- Imperial: Open-pollinated leek with a long edible portion.
Leeks are perennial plants that do the best when grown in full sunlight and a somewhat acidic soil pH of around 6.0 to 6.8. They can tolerate more alkaline soils, but it’s a good idea to test your soil ahead of time to figure out where you stand.
Either way, you can amend the soil before planting with organic compost. The richer the soil, the better. Compost can also help aerate the soil, which is necessary for root crops like leeks and carrots. Adding compost improves soil structure, as does tilling with a broadfork or even running chicken tractors through the garden for a few days.
Leeks can be started from transplants or from seed.
Are leeks perennial?
Leeks are hardy perennials. They can tolerate winters as cold as those experienced in USDA zone 2! If you choose not to harvest your leeks at the end of this year’s growing season, your plant will stay alive into the spring and will produce gorgeous globes of pink or white flowers, too. In fact, they almost look like chives.
If you wish to grow leeks in this way, you will have to wait for the plant to divide the cond year. That fall, you can harvest just a few stalks from each clump of plants. You can leave the rest in place for future years, helping to maximize your reliance on the seed supply store.
How to transplant leeks
Before transplanting, take the time to harden off your seedlings. Do this by setting them outside for short periods, starting with just an hour a day and working your way up to a full 24 hours outdoors.
Once your leeks are ready for the great outdoors, pick a cloudy, windless day to plant. Space the transplants close together but make sure you leave room for the leaves to branch out. They’ll grow in the same direction, so if you position them properly you can plant as close as every two inches.
When you transplant, dig a deep six-inch trench. Place your transplants inside, then add soil to cover the roots. As the leeks develop, mound soil or even straw around the base, just like you would if you were hilling potatoes.
Should I start leeks from seed?
If you plan on growing leeks in a very cool climate, you may want to start your seed indoors about twelve weeks before the last spring frost. You can move the seeds outside once the temperatures remain consistently above 40 degrees. They should be hardened off slowly, over a period of seven days, before you transplant them into the garden.
If you don’t have cool weather to contend with and really only have spring and fall to work with, you can either start seed inside about four weeks before the last frost and transplant them outside for a harvest in the early part of summer, or you can direct seed in the late summer and harvest them in the winter.
Can leeks be grown in containers?
Leeks can be raised in raised beds as well as in containers. Just make sure your container is well-draining so your leeks don’t rot. Make sure the container is at least 18 inches deep and fill it only about two-thirds of the way full with soil. This will give your plants room to grow.
Water regularly, as plants grown in containers tend to dry out more rapidly.
Caring for Leeks
One of the most difficult aspects of caring for leeks is preventing them from getting gritty. It’s easy for soil to become trapped between the leaves. Water from the ground up to prevent backsplash. Drip irrigation systems can help. While you can’t prevent rainfall from splattering soil on your plants, slow, steady watering can help keep the backsplash to a minimum.
Leeks aren’t prone to many pests, but one to watch out for is the slug. Young transplants are the most vulnerable, especially during times of wet, cool weather. These conditions can also lead to leaf rot. Make sure you have good air circulation between your plants and inspect them regularly to reduce the likelihood of infection or infestation.
If you plant any other crops near your leeks, make sure you are careful about digging and cultivating around them. Weed by hand instead of with a hoe so you don’t disrupt the roots.
Make sure you give your plants at least an inch of water every week. You don’t need to add fertilizer, but a splash of compost every now and then won’t hurt. You can also mulch with materials like straw to help the sol retain moisture and to help combat weeds, too. Plus, as it breaks down, it will add vital nutrients to the soil.
How to Harvest Leeks
Like I mentioned above, leeks are generally ready for harvest in about 90 to 150 days, depending on the cultivar. They don’t die back to tell you they are ready to be pulled like onions do.
Instead, you’ll have to wait until the base has a white section that’s about three inches in diameter. It will also feel firm and solidly rooted.
You can harvest the leeks by gently twisting and then pulling them out of the ground. You can also dig them up with a pitch fork if that’s easier.
When you harvest your leeks, leave the dirt on and stash them in the root cellar for long term storage. If you want to freeze or cook with your leeks, clean them thoroughly and cut the tops off.
If you live in a mild climate, you actually don’t need to harvest your leeks at all! Simply leave them in the ground and they will stay warm and healthy all winter. They are very frost tolerant.
The best time to harvest leeks will vary depending on where you live and when you planted, but usually, you can harvest any time from late summer into early spring of the following year.
How to Preserve Leeks
Leeks should not be stored in the refrigerator unless you wrap them in plastic first. Otherwise, they can give off a strong, unappealing odor that can contaminate the other foods in your refrigerator.
When stored in your fridge, leeks will last up to two weeks – just make sure you don’t wash or trim them first. They can also be stashed in a root cellar. You can freeze leeks – here’s a video on how. You shouldn’t leek. They need to be pressure-canned, since they’re low-acid foods, and when they’re exposed to high temperatures they get a bit mushy.
You can, however, pickle leeks without having to worry about spoilage. Here’s a recipe for canning pickled ramps, which are simply wild leeks.
Best Leek Recipes
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – how to use up all those tasty leeks once you’ve harvested them! Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Braised Leeks
- Buttered Leeks
- Garlic Leeks
- Parmesan Roasted Leeks
- Potato Leek Soup
- One-Pot Spaghetti with Leeks
- Cauliflower Leek Soup
- Leek and Potato Cake
- Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks
- Mushroom and Leek Risotto
When in doubt? You can use them in most onion recipes, too. Good to know if you run out!
What are your favorite leek recipes – or tips for growing leeks? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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