Leeks have a milder flavor, are more nutritious, and are simpler to stomach than onions. They’re also simple to cultivate, cold-tolerant, and prohibitively expensive to buy in the grocery. What could be a better excuse to plant a large area of them in your kitchen garden?
1. Select a location that receives direct sunlight and has well-drained soil with a pH of 6.2 to 7.0. (see “How to Have Your Soil Tested,” under Related eHows). Compost and manure should be used liberally.
2. Purchase ready-to-plant leek plants from your local nursery around the time of the last spring frost. Start seeds inside at least 10 weeks before the typical last frost date.
3. When seedlings are about the thickness of a pencil, harden them off before transplanting them to the garden.
4. Depending on the variety, space seedlings 4 to 8 inches apart (check the directions on the seed packet or plant label). Plant leeks closer together to create long, thin stems; plant them farther apart to encourage thicker stems.
5. Dig a hole just deep enough to expose only the top inch of the transplant with a dibble (a planting tool that looks like a fat, pointed stick with a T-shaped handle) or the end of a rake handle. Fill the hole with soil and place the transplant in it.
6. Water the plants at least once a week; otherwise, the stems will get harsh. Mulch to keep moisture in, and side-dress once a month with manure tea.
7. As soon as the leeks are large enough to utilize, begin harvesting them. They’re best raw while they’re young and supple; after they reach scallion size, they’re better cooked.
Leeks can be planted in a variety of ways. The above-mentioned dibble method is the simplest, especially for inexperienced gardeners. It blanches the stems, just like the other ways, by shielding them from light to maintain them white, soft, and mild-tasting. The other methods are detailed in most thorough gardening books if you want to try them out.
Pink root, a disease that slows roots and colors them pink or red, can affect leeks, as it can all onion family members. Commercial producers are more likely to be affected than home gardeners, but to be safe, buy disease-resistant types and rotate crops every year.