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Leeks

UK Garden Centre - Information about Leeks

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The Leek may be the national emblem of Wales but its horticultural heart lies in the north-eastern counties of England. Here is the home of the pot leek – grown by enthusiasts with loving care and secret potions for competitions each year. The aim is to beat the 9 ½ lb (4.75kg) record, but at home your aim should be to produce ½ - 1lb (250-500g) specimens for the kitchen – smaller but tastier than the Northumbrian giants. Leeks are the easiest member of the onion family to grow – they will withstand the hardest winter, are generally untroubled by pests and diseases, and do not demand the same level of high fertility as the onion. But some textbooks exaggerate their ease by claiming that they are amongst the simplest of vegetables to grow. Not true. They need transplanting, careful earthing-up and occupy the land for a long time. Still, an excellent crop for every plot – the harvesting season lasts for six months or more and the strong white roots break up clay soil better than any spade. In the kitchen the thick white ‘stem’ (more correctly the shank of rolled leaves) has numerous uses.

Seed facts
Expected germination time: 14-18 days
Approximate number per ounce: 10,000
Expected yield from a 10ft row: 10lb (5kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 3 years.
Approximate time between sowing and lifting (Early varieties): 30 weeks
Approximate time between sowing and lifting (Late varieties): 45 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not difficult, but occupies the land for a long time.

Soil facts
· Leeks are less demanding than onions and will grow in any reasonable soil provided it is neither highly compacted not badly drained.
· The crop will be disappointing if the land is starved of nutrients and humus. Thorough digging in winter is required – add compost or well-rotted manure if this was not done for the previous crop.
· Choose a sunny spot for where the plants will grow. Leave the soil rough after winter digging and level the surface in the spring by raking and treading. Incorporate a general fertilizer into the surface about 1 week before planting.

Sowing and Planting
· Sow very thinly ½ in (1cm) deep in rows that are 6in (15in) apart. Cover with soil.
· Thin the seedlings so that they are 1 ½ in (4cm) apart in the rows.
· The young leeks are ready for transplanting when they are about 8in (20cm) high and as thick as a pencil. Water the bed the day before lifting if the weather is dry. Trim off the root ends and leaf tips, then set out in rows 12in (30cm) apart, leaving 6in (25cm) between the transplants.
· Make a 6in (15cm) deep hole with a dibber, drop in the leek transplant and then gently fill the hole with water to settle the roots. Do not fill the hole with soil.

Calendar
· For exhibiting in the autumn sow seed under glass in late January or February and plant outdoors during April.
· For ordinary kitchen use sow seed outdoors in spring when the soil is workable and warm enough to permit germination – for all but warm and sheltered areas this means mid March or later. Transplant the seedlings in June.
· For an April crop you can sow seed of a Late variety in June and transplant in July.
Sowing time (under glass): Mid January to mid February; transplant in late April.
Lifting time: November to mid April; can extend from September to mid May.

Looking after the crop
· Hoe carefully to keep down weeds and make sure that the plants are not short of water during dry weather. Do not deliberately fill the holes with soil.
· Blanch to increase the length of white stem. Gently draw dry soil around the stems when the plants are well developed. Do this in stages, increasing the height a little at a time. On no account allow soil to fall between the leaves or grittiness will be the unpleasant result at dinner time. Finish earthing-up in late October.
· Feeding will increase the thickness of the stems. Late feeding, however, should be avoided for plants which will overwinter in the garden – late August is the time to stop.

Harvesting
· For culinary purposes do not aim to produce giants – there is a reduction in flavour as size increases.
· Begin lifting when the leeks are still quite small – in this way you will ensure a long harvesting period. Never try to wrench the plant out of the soil – lift it gently with a fork.
· Leeks can remain in the ground during the winter months until they are required for use.

Varieties
Early varieties (September, October, November)
These varieties are popular with exhibitors as they can be sown under glass at the beginning of the year and they will reach their maximum size in time for the autumn show. Alternatively they can be sown outdoors to provide long-stemmed leeks for the kitchen before the end of the year.
The Lyon-Prizetaker: A great favourite for the show bench over the years – long, thick stems with dark green leaves to catch the judge’s eye. Good for the kitchen – mild flavoured.
Early Market: a strain of the Autumn Mammoth variety – noted for its earliness but not suitable for overwintering.
Walton Mammoth: Another Autumn Mammoth strain, highly recommended for exhibition and kitchen use.
Marble Pillar: Many gardening books list this variety as a good choice because of the long length of stem and its ability to provide an autumn crop which can be left in the ground in winter. Unfortunately it is not listed in the popular catalogues.

Mid-season varieties (December, January, February)
These varieties mature during the winter months and one of them has long been the number one choice for the home gardener. They are of course all winter hardy, but vary considerably in length of stem.
Musselburgh: This Scottish variety remains Britain’s favourite home-grown leek – it is very hardy, reliable and fine flavoured. The stems are thick but not tall.
Snowstar: Similar to Musselburgh in general appearance – a modern variety which the suppliers claim is more likely to win a prize at the local show.
Argenta: Just what you would expect from a standard mid-season variety – 5in (12cm) of white stem, crisp flesh and a mild flavour. Matures in November or December and stands up to winter frosts.
King Richard: Something new – a mid-season variety which is significantly longer than the traditional ones. Take up the challenge and see if you can grow 1ft (30cm) long white stems.

Late varieties (February. March, April)
These varieties are perhaps the most useful of all for kitchen use, maturing between late January and early April when other vegetables are scarce.
Giant Winter-Catalina: The variety Giant Winter has produced a number of impressive strains, and Catalina is one of the best. Heavy and thick stems are produced which can be left in the ground for a considerable time.
Giant Winter-Royal Favourite: Like all Giant Winter strains, late-maturing and very hardy. The stems are large and the foliage is dark.
Yates Empire: Looks like Musselburgh with thick, pure white stems but it will stand in the ground quite happily until mid April.
Winter Crop: This variety has the reputation for being the hardiest of all – it is the one usually recommended for exposed northern sites.

Troubles
Generally trouble free, but see Onion.


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