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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Grow Leeks Pretty Much Like Onions With a Couple of Exceptions

Q. About 1 1/2 years ago, I planted a package of leek seeds.  They grew, but not very fast.  This spring, I had more leeks than I knew what to do with.  Went on vacation, and came back to leeks that are going to seed, and look more like garlic than leeks.  They seem to have lots of "sets" at the base of the plants. Are they still good to eat?  Can I pull them up and use the sets in the fall to plant more leeks?  It's been an interesting ride.

Leeks sold on the streets of Kosovo. 
A. We grow and harvest vegetables at their peak of perfection for eating. Vegetables can be harvested at any time but usually there is a preferred time when they are best for cooking and eating.So, yes there is nothing wrong with eating them at this stage of their development but they are certainly far from prime. I would collect the sets that you are seeing and re-plant and harvest them earlier.

Leeks are grown from seed almost the same way as onions from seed. Plant leek seeds in mid to late fall, usually about mid-October or early November in our southern climate.

Transplant seedlings to a new location in the spring about the first week of March. When planting from seeds in the fall plant the seeds 1 inch apart and about 1/2 inch deep. I usually am not the precise but broadcast the seed in a small area and cover the seeds with a shallow layer of soil. If I don't want to use garden space, I will plant them this way in a container.You will overwinter them in the garden in a dense planting.

In the spring, about mid-February to early March when they are at least 6 inches tall, dig them up carefully with a trowel or garden spade so they are not damaged and separate them. Replant them in rows or blocks about 4 to 6 inches apart. If your soil easily drains you can plant them fairly deep, maybe 4 inches or more if they are larger. Onions need to be planted the same depth as they were growing as seedlings. Leeks can be planted much deeper, deep enough so that only the growing tips are above ground. If you plant them deep you may not need to blanch them. Leeks can be fairly large so put the rows about 18 inches apart and further apart if you are growing them for monster size.

When they have put on some significant growth after transplanting you can blanch the base of the plant (turn them white) by not letting sunlight reach the bases. Some people pile dirt around them while others cover the leeks with cardboard that prevents light from reaching the bases. Blanching is more for aesthetic and traditional appeal. The blanched portion is more mild in flavor.

Fertilize them once a month during their growth period. They are shallow rooted so they will enjoy a surface mulch and frequent watering.

Leeks are biennials. This means they will bulb up the first season and, if left in the ground, will send up a flower stalk the second season and produce seed. To do this they need two “winters” or cold period. It sounds like they went through two cold periods and sent up a flower stalk and went to seed.

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