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Growing Leeks

a basket of leeks Leeks are delicious in stews and salads, and of course, in sumptuously delicious leek soup. Mature leeks are also extremely cold hardy and can stay in the ground (well drained) all winter to add their fresh and incomparably delicious mild onion flavour to soups, salads and all manner of sauteed ingredients of our cuisine at any time they are needed and wanted.

We have two favourites; "Durabel", a mild, sweet variety which is excellent in salads, and "Winta", an extremely hardy leek with a strong leeky flavour, which is excellent for soups and stews. A common and oft encountered phrase in gardening is "... but well worth the trouble", and this applies to leeks, but only in their infancy. Once established, leeks grow like weeds.

It is in the establishing that we need to take some care. Leeks may be started indoors in February if giant leeks are wanted, in light fluffy potting soil, for easy transplanting. That is why we keep our propagating soil mix light and light, so the young seedlings may be lifted easily without losing all their fine feeder roots (see previous article).

Sow seeds about one half-inch deep, half an inch apart in rows about two inches apart. This is to allow them growing room as they should not be transplanted outdoors until the soil is dry enough to provide a nice, loose seedbed. This will vary with your location, usually anywhere between the beginning and the end of May. During he early part of the year, when days are short, leek seedlings will benefit greatly from and additional two to three hours of Grow-Lux or similar light. Keep the tops trimmed to three inches long to make stockier and sturdy plants for transplanting.

Now then; there are two methods of growing leek seedlings in the garden. One is in two-inch individual holes; the other is in an open trench. We prefer the trench method as it provides more light for the young seedlings. Choose the most well-drained area in your garden as the leeks may well stay in the ground until next spring in splendid health, if the ground does not get soggy with our winter rains.

With tiller or fork, work up a nice loose bed (which is not necessary if you've made raised beds as described here) about 10 inches deep. Excavate this to the width of a garden shovel, six to eight inches deep. Pile the lifted soil to the north or west of the trench, so there will be maximum light (their life-energy) in the trench. Sprinkle about 10 lbs. of well-rotted chicken manure in the bottom of a 10-foot row, or about five pounds of fishmeal for the same length of row. Mix this well with the soil at the bottom of the trench. Plant the seedlings about 4 inches apart in two staggered rows four inches apart. Spread the root hairs gently in all directions, and holding the seedling gently, lightly press about half an inch of soil over the roots, first on one side, then the other.

Water gently so as not to wash away the soil over the roots. Depending on the weather, water frequently for the first week to 10 days to keep the soil constantly moist. After this period they can be left alone, and nothing but a prolonged drought can harm them. From here on in, they will grow like weeds. As growth proceeds, keep filling in the trench with the excavated soil, keeping about three inches of top growth exposed. Be careful not to get any soil above the point where the leaves start to branch. You will find this soil again in your soup or your salad. If the leaf has not branched by the time it is completely above ground, the leeks can be hilled with additional soil for a longer white stalk.

Harvesting can begin in the fall when stalks are about one inch in diameter, and from then on can be dug as needed. Leeks keep on growing for a long time, even in mild spells in mid-winter, to as much as three inches in diameter, and sometimes even more.

Leeks may be sown outdoors in early May in the same manner as for transplants. They hardly ever get beyond the thickness of a pencil by fall, but will make additional growth by the next spring. In any case, leeks must be harvested before seed stalks appear the next season, when they become unpalatable, and their very special delicious flavour is lost. And that you can have garden-fresh leeks, straight out of the ground for six to 8 months, including all winter long, in my mind makes it "well worth the bit of trouble" of getting them started. Next we'll get into the rhubarb.



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