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How to Grow Leeks

There is a great tradition of secrecy and myths, well guarded and hidden in time as to how to grow the perfect leeks.

Actually all you need to do is shove them in the ground and let them get on with it……or do you…?

We are talking about pot leeks which have a blanched area no longer than 15cm (6in) – with the largest possible circumference. They are called pot leeks because they were grown for the pot. Although some people think it is because they are pot shaped or grow in pots.

We grow our show leeks from plants obtained from local people who are highly skilled in propagating and raising the perfect specimen.  The plants we start with are about the size of a nice big fat spring onion.

Pot leeks are usually planted into the ground at the end of May or the first week in June. They are very hardy and don’t seem to mind the weather until Show time in September. The wind can rip the leaves to tatters so think about a sheltered spot. Leeks like well prepared soil, with a high organic content and slightly alkaline. If it is well drained, friable and not too stony it may only be
necessary to add well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost. A full barrow load per square metre is about right. Where the soil is poor because of clay, stones or poor drainage, a prepared bed, called a ‘trench’ is a good idea.

A trench or raised bed 2 metres x 1 metre (about 6ft x 3ft) will accommodate 6 leeks. It should be about 45cm (18 in) high over the normal soil level. The sides will need support but watch out for slugs hiding in the wood or bricks used. There are personal recipes of how to prepare a trench but all seem to have common ingredients. The bottom should be weathered material such as ashes
or brick aggregate, covered with a layer of woody plant material, to provide a mat for the soil layers making drainage possible. Next comes a layer of farmyard manure or garden compost is then added and the trench topped up and mixed with soil. It is essential to add more manure or compost each year to the top and mixed in but the bottom of the trench is not disturbed.

Or … Just shove them in the ground and let them get on with it.

Pot leeks should have a week hardening off in a cold frame before planting out. About a week before planting, rake a handful of plant food per sq metre (per 1 sq yd) into the surface of the soil. Pot leeks are planted with soil up to their lowest flag (leaf joint).  Make a hole for each plant and sprinkle in some plant food to encourage the roots to penetrate the soil. Good and even watering is needed to avoid the leeks bolting and going to seed.  Do not let the soil dry out. The secret is in the feeding once a week with full strength plant food from the end of June onwards. Regular feeds are essential for actively growing leeks.

When September comes you want to show your leeks at the village show. Lift the selected leeks the evening before or on the morning of the Show and wash them down with a hosepipe from the roots to the flags. Trim the roots with aiming for a neat and tidy look. We only want our leeks clean and not dropping clods of soil everywhere don’t worry if they are a bit gritty and don’t chop up the leaves – the condition of the green leafy parts of the plant is irrelevant. If your leaves are split where they join the stem of the leek then carefully peel away the leaf to the next unsplit one. Remember we can only show leeks less than 6” from base to first leaf joint.

Coming soon – how to prepare your leek in pictures…