by PETE AMYOONY
In previous columns, I have discussed the growing of onions and garlic in some detail. These, along with leeks, are all “alliums” – members of the Lily family.
Because we usually grow the onions and garlic for storage, it is best to give them lots of nutrients and water at the beginning of the season (until mid July or so) and then withhold water and further feeding to encourage the large bulbs to form for storage. The drying down of the tops into the bulbs until the outer skins (onions) and “papers” (on garlic) are crispy and crackle will give the best keepers. As mentioned before, I keep my garlic and onions in a warm loft or beside the furnace until Christmas to be certain they are well cured.
Leeks, however, are grown for their large stems that have such a mild onion flavour. If you haven’t tried leek and potato soup, you still have a new treat to look forward to. Some years ago, a dear old friend from Valemount gave me a great recipe that has become one of my favourites.
All the members of this family grow best in a rich, loamy soil with lots of old manure and compost. Because we want the leeks to grow lots of stem and top growth right up until harvest, we do not need to worry about curing and drying. If you want super leeks, you have to start plants from seed in February or March, or get some extra plants from a friend or your local nursery. The first two to three months only gives you a few inches (8-10cm) of growth, but once these little seedlings are planted out, they really take off.
If you want “super-leeks”, you can take the time to dig a trench about 12” (30cm) deep and the same width and fill it half full of compost and well-rotted manure. Use your trowel to make small holes every six inches or so (15cm) and set one of the small plants into it. They look like a few lost blades of grass in the big trench, but when they get established, they will grow like mad!
With all members of this family, if you grow them from seed or buy small seedlings to transplant, it seems to work best if you cut the tops back with a pair of scissors to about 2 inches (5cm) before transplanting. Because you always damage some roots when transplanting, cutting back the tops gives less leaves for the roots to feed. The little plant will send out new roots for the first few weeks and then you will see tremendous growth from then on.
As your leeks grow, fill the trench in around them but always leave the growing tips above the level of the soil. Each time you fill in the trench a bit more, you can side dress with a little more compost and manure around the plants. Leeks are real gluttons for food! With any luck, you should be harvesting giant leeks by the fall.