As summer winds down and the Autumn days start to take hold it’s the time of the year that I start to plant leeks. Leeks have fast become one of my favourite veggie crops because they are easy to grow and taste great. With any luck, this blog will inspire you to get out and plant a few leeks in your garden.
Leeks are very suited to my climate and with a bit of planning I can harvest them for a period of up to six months. Where I live on the coast of Newcastle, I don’t get any Winter frosts to slow down the growth. It is the heat of Summer that is more of a problem, so I wait until the hot days are over. After at least 5 years of successfully growing leeks I reckon that I now have a tried and true method of getting a good crop and now it’s time to share my secrets to growing lovely leeks!
Leeks are a crop that is best sown in seedling trays and transplanted into a well-prepared growing bed. The first seed sowing occurs early February for a late March transplanting followed by a second sowing in late March for a mid-May transplanting. If you are not able to sow your own seed, you can buy a punnet of seedlings from your local Garden Supplier and transplant them directly into your garden. I always prefer growing my own because I can control what variety I plant.
Leeks do best in the full sun but will tolerate a bit of shade. It’s important to have a fertile soil with lots of well composted organic matter so that it retains moisture in the dryer times. Although they love the moisture, the soil needs to be freely draining and my sandy loam is well suited for growing a great quality crop. Prior to planting adjust your soil pH to be 6.5 to 7.
Transplant seedlings once they reach about 10-15cm in height. I find that the best way to grow leeks in the garden is to make a shallow trench (about 10cm deep) and plant the leeks in the bottom of the trench, spacing them about 12-15cm apart and covered with only a light amount of soil. For multiple rows in a bed, space the rows 25-30cm apart.
After transplanting you will need to apply a liquid fertilizer to get them underway. Most of the nutrients leeks need will already be in the soil as part of the compost that was added before planting, however they respond well to liquid fertilizer if you notice any deficiencies as they grow.
Leeks are at their best when grown with a long white thickened stem and building up the soil around the growing plant is the easiest way of maximising the length of the stem. It is the sweetest and most flavoursome part of the leek and the most desirable. As the leeks grow, use the excavated soil from the trench and slowly build up the soil around the stem by dragging some of the soil against the developing stems to keep out light. Every couple of weeks drag some more of the soil over the growing plants until the leeks are growing in a mound of soil. Here is a short FaceBook link to a video on how it is done.
It usually takes 4 to 5 months for a good crop to develop to full maturity, however you can start to harvest leeks when they are quite small. If you are impatient like me it’s a good idea to pull every second leek so that the remaining plant can get thicker for later use. By doing this you can extend the growing season. I push a sharp spade into the soil to cut the roots close to the leek I want to harvest to avoid disturbing the root systems of the plants next to the one you are having for dinner.
Varieties I use
I have trialled several varieties and have discovered the three best ones for my garden. They all grow well and when I sow them all at the same time I get a well spread-out harvest. Varieties are:
King Richard – The best of all the varieties I have grown over the years. A long white stem that can grow fat and easily 30cm long. It takes around 10-12 weeks to maturity from planting.
Autumn Giant – It’s not called ‘giant’ by accident. It has a long white stem that I have grown to a length of up to 40cm. 12-15 weeks to maturity.
Musselburg – Not as big as the other two varieties but is ideal to use to extend the season. Will take 15-18 weeks to mature.
The first sowing occurs early February for a late March transplanting and the second sowing is late March for a mid-May transplanting. This way I will harvest fantastic lush leeks from June to October.
A couple of tricks
- Leek seed reduces in quality quickly and poor germination rates occur with older seed, so I buy fresh seed every year.
- If you have plenty of seedlings spare, plant a row only 3 to 4cm apart and treat them like you would a crop of spring onions.
- When you harvest, don’t just cook the white part of the leek, there is no reason you cannot use the leaves as well, they work very well in your winter soups.
If you want to watch a video of how I grow leeks, check out this link in the Hunter Backyard Veggie Growers Facebook page.
So, do yourself a favour, get hold of some leek seeds or seedlings and plant some. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.