How to Grow Gorgeous Leeks

Leeks are the most delicately flavored and sweetest of all the alliums. Leeks are usually classified as a cool-season crop, though they need a long growing season, usually from early spring to late fall, growing right through warmth of summer. Their flavor improves after a light frost in the fall.

Leeks are considered by many as one of the more difficult crops to grow, though this isn’t entirely true. It doesn’t take much skill – just attention to the needs and wants of your leeks, and you’ll grow a fine crop every time.

Leeks need a rich, light soil. If you have a heavy clay soil with very little organic matter in it, begin now to add well-composted manure and other compost to the soil, and mulch with wood chips. It won’t just help you grow better leeks, but all your vegetables will grow better. Your leeks may not grow as well the first year, but they will grow better and better with each successive year, as you improve your soil.

Leeks are very cold hardy plants. They can be started indoors in cold, northern areas in March, then hardened off in April and planted out in the garden two weeks later. In mild winter areas, where temperatures don’t fall below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, they can be sown in fall and grown through the winter.

Leeks are a unique member of the allium (onion) family. Instead of growing a bulb, like onions, or edible leaves, like chives, the leek produces a thick, white stalk with a mild onion flavor. The longer you can make the stalk grow, the more good eating you’ll have from this vegetable.

Most people will tell you that that the only edible part of the leek is the stalk, but I’ve used the leaves more than once when making vegetable broth. They have a slight onion flavor, making it just right for this purpose. (Of course, only use organically grown leek leaves for this purpose!)

To grow the best, longest leek stalks you can, sow or transplant leeks into a trench. Dig a trench about 12-15 inches deep. Back fill about 6 inches with well-composted manure or compost, and sow or transplant directly in the compost. Water in the seeds or seedlings. Leeks are heavy feeders and good compost will keep them happy, though a good manure tea wouldn’t hurt.

As the leeks grow, fill in the trench with soil and/or compost. Just like grass that turns yellow when it doesn’t see the sun, the stalk of the leek will blanch white and become more tender. If you continue to fill in the trench, and then hill up more soil, mulch, or compost around the leek as it grows, you’ll get the coveted leek all gardeners want.

Leeks can be harvested at almost any time during their growth. About 2 ½ to 3 months after you sow the seeds, the leeks will be big enough to give you your first harvest.

We always harvest a few leeks while they’re still young (we can’t help it, I guess), but we leave the rest to grow to full maturity.

Leeks can be used in any recipe that calls for onions, adding a lighter, sweeter onion flavor to the dish.

If you’re interested in saving seeds from your leeks, click here for a seed saving guide.

Elephant garlic is a type of leek, but a bit different. To read more about this unusual vegetable, click here.

Check out the growing guides for others in the allium family:

Scallions & Bunching onions
Onion/Common Chives
Chinese/Garlic Chives

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