Leeks are nutritious vegetables with a nice flavour which adds taste to soups, salads, sauces and stews.
They come in different varieties and are perfect for all kinds of dishes. Leeks are quite easy to grow unlike other plants link the eggplant that can be challenging to grow but have a long growing season.
Best climate for planting leeks
Leeks grow best in moderate climates to cool climatic zones, but also grow well in warmer climates.
The difference thou is that in warmer climates, they may take longer to mature and the yields may be smaller in size.
Leeks also grow best in full sunlight but also grow well in partly shaded environments. Allow them at least 8 hours of direct sunlight.
The growing season depends on leek variety, overall climatic conditions, condition of the soil in which leeks are grown, and your level of experience in gardening.
All these factors affect the time it takes to grow leeks from sowing to harvest time. Most often you have to give them at least 5 months before harvesting. The longer you wait, the bigger the leeks.
Best leek variety to grow
The best leek varieties are Almera leek, Atlantic leek, Axima leek, Below zero F1 leek, Blue Solaise leek, Carentan leek, Giant winter leek, Hannibal leek, Pot leek, Muselburgh leek, Mammoth Blanch leek, Oarsman F1 leek and Tardona leek.
How to best grow leeks
Here we go;
Step 1: Choose your site
Choose a good location for growing your leeks. You may want to start by planting your leek seeds in containers or pots located indoors before planting them outside.
But if you can you may opt to buy an indoor growing garden system that is easy to operate and manage but still produce high yields.
This guarantees healthy transplants. Fill small containers with compost, scatter several seeds on them and cover with about 0.5 cm of compost.
Alternatively, plant the seeds with spacing of 2 inches between them so that they can grow well. Leek seeds germinate best at temperatures of around 25 degrees Celsius.
Always plant enough seeds as many seeds do not germinate at all. For instance, if you want 50 leek seedlings, plant around 100 seeds to achieve your goal.
Keep them moist and place them under light while indoors to avoid a situation where they become elongated in an attempt to reach light. If you are growing leeks for commercial purposes, a nursery bed will be most ideal.
The best time to sow seeds in pots is between the months of February and April. They should then be planted outside between the months of May and July.
Step 2: Soil preparation – best soil type
Till the area to a depth of 8 to12 inches to loosen any compacted soil. Add 4 to 6 inches of organic matter or compost and 1 to 2 pounds of multipurpose fertilizer for every 100 square feet of the planting area.
Thoroughly mix the soil, compost and fertilizer together. It is recommended to mix compost and aged manure long before the planting season.
The soil should be well drained for leeks to thrive. If the soil is not well drained, pathogens and pests may develop. Worse still, the soggy soil will prevent growth and kill the young plants. Leeks are known to rot under soggy water. Plant them in raised grow beds. The raised beds should be reasonably deep.
Test the drainage. To do this, dig a hole 1 foot deep into the ground and fill it with water. Check the hole after one hour. If you find less than 2 inches of water has drained, then it is a sign the soil has poor drainage.
This problem can be cured by adding compost or making the area slope to help with drainage.
Test the soil pH using a pH testing kit. Leeks grow best in slightly acidic soils with optimal pH of 6.2 to 6.6.
Step 3: Best way to plant leeks – seeds or seedlings
Planting seeds is the most recommended method as it allows for immediate transplant of seedlings from the containers to the outdoor bed.
While you can buy seedlings from a local plant nursery or from an agricultural center, they may not be as versatile due to the time taken between removing them from the nursery or center to transporting them all the way to the prepared bed.
They may wilt or die if not handled well during the entire process. However, planting seedlings is quicker and easier than planting seeds.
Planting seeds is more advantageous because it allows you to choose between leek varieties. Again, it Is cheaper to buy seeds than it is to buy seedlings.
Growing your leeks from seeds will give you a greater sense of satisfaction with your gardening as opposed to starting the crop at seedling level.
However, growing leeks from seeds takes a much longer time and involves more labour in the daily care of the plants. In addition, there are greater chances of loosing seedlings in the seeding process.
- Transplanting your leeks seedlings
If you opt for transplanting, here is how to go about it. Once ready for transplanting, gently remove them from the pots or containers and sow them outside in the site you have located.
Leeks should be transplanted at a height of at least 15 cm. Dig holes for the leeks. The holes should be 15 cm deep and 15 cm apart. The rows should be 30 cm apart.
Loosen the seedlings from the roots to separate them from each other and plant a seedling in each hole, ensuring the roots go to the very bottom of the hole. Fill the holes with water and cover with soil. Lightly press the soil around each seedling to secure it in place.
In summary, each option has its pros and cons. It therefore comes down to personal preference. If however you feel unsure, is advisable to seek expert advise from your local agricultural officer.
Step 4: Hill the soil around your leek plants
Midway through the plant growing season, hill the soil around the base of the plants to reach the place where the leaves come apart.
This causes the white edible part of the plant to become larger. Avoid hilling too high as this causes the plants to rot.
Step 5: Best nutrients for growing leeks
Water is the best nutrient for growing leeks. Water leeks regularly because they need good moisture conditions.
Be vigilant to water them during dry seasons. Never let the soil dry out. The time of day for watering leeks does not matter. For those living in dry climates, it is advisable to water the leeks twice a week.
In the middle of the growing season, side dress the plants with compost. If you choose to use the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK) fertilizers, pay attention to their contents because leeks require fertilizers that are rich in nitrogen but very low in phosphorus.
Use of compost is always the best option since it is organic.
Step 6: Control weeds and diseases when growing leeks
Keep leeks free of weeds as the weeds tend to stunt their growth. Always weed by hand. Never hoe because a hoe tends to damage the plants. To help with weeding, leave large gaps between rows to allow room for kneeling down and getting between the plants.
Weed frequently throughout the growing season so as to keep the plants from having to fight for nutrients. And of course you can use the weeds as mulch.
Mulch to a depth of 3 to 4 inches using organic material, straw that is weed-free and grass clippings that are free of herbicides. This helps to control weeds.
- Pest control and management
Pests are not a big problem for leeks. Few pests however are common to leeks. These include leaf miners, maggots and thrips. Protect your leeks from snails by use of a slug fence. Slug fences also help to protect the plants from bigger animals such as rabbits.
Step 7: How to water your leeks
Leeks have a shallow root system. They provide best yields when provided with plenty of water either through rainfall, through irrigation or getting a self watering system. It is advisable to irrigate during the dry seasons. Always water the base of the plants. Avoid overwatering as it leads to fungal diseases.
Step 8: When is it time to harvest leeks?
Leeks are ready for harvest from August to December, but this depends on the variety sown.
Pick them as often as needed by digging around the base of the plants using a hoe or garden fork and gently pulling them off the ground by holding on the leaves.
It is advisable to start pulling them off the ground when they are very small as this serves to elongate the harvest period. Keep the roots intact when harvesting the leeks.
All the leeks should be harvested within the first year after planting.
How to store leeks well
Consume leeks as soon as they are harvested as they tend to taste best and to contain the most nutrients at this point.
Leeks can be stored in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days depending on the fridge temperature and leek variety.
Trim the roots, then wash the stems to remove dirt using a vegetable scrubbing brush. Rinse them thoroughly and wrap them in paper towels. Place them in perforated plastic bags and store them in the refrigerator or in a cool cellar.
You can also freeze leeks, a better alternative to throwing away some in case of a bountiful harvest. You will need to blanch them before freezing them.
The downside to this method of preservation is that it compromises some of the flavour and texture of the leeks.