Leeks belong to the allium family. They have a milder flavor than onions and garlic. Unfortunately, they do not get their deserved attention from the US gardeners.
When is the right time to grow leeks in central Texas?
In Central Texas, there are two windows for growing leeks. First, fall planting for Spring harvest. Then, winter planting for mid-summer harvest.
Transplants start showing up in local nurseries around November, and sometimes at the end of spring.
Direct sowing vs starting seeds vs transplants?
Direct sowing is not worth the hassle for so many reasons.
- Central Texas long hot summers that prolong through October can hinder the germination.
- Dedicating space for leeks is not efficient for home gardeners with limited space. Leeks take a long time to mature, and the space they may occupy could be better used for quicker crops.
- Direct-sowing requires constant attention and maintenance. First, the soil needs to remain moist at all times, which is quite a chore. Then digging animals have to be kept under control to stop them from disturbing the seeds. Later on, thinning the seedlings is a must for better production.
Starting the seeds indoors is not that hard and is very rewarding. It provides a head start on the season without sacrificing much-needed garden space. Also, you can grow as many leeks as you wish for a fraction of the cost.
How to start leek seeds?
- Choose the right variety for your region. Quick-maturing and slow-bolting varieties are best for warm regions.
- Start the seeds as early as August.
- Use a shallow container with drainage holes.
- Fill the container with a premoistened seed-starting mix.
- Sprinkle the seeds sparingly, then cover them with soil.
- Water well then set under grow lights or on a bright windowsill.
- It takes about 7 to 14 days for the seeds to germinate.
- When the seedlings reach two inches high, sheer them back to promote good growth.
- It will take three months before you plant them out.
Soil requirements for growing leeks
Leeks grow best in light and well-draining soil. Although compost-rich soil is great for growing leeks, high nitrogen can hinder growth. Instead, make sure the soil is rich in phosphorus and potassium.
Sun requirements for growing leeks
For faster growth, leeks need full sun exposure, which is six to eight hours. It will still grow in part shade but at a slower pace.
How to space leeks?
According to the square-foot-garden spacing chart, one square foot can fit six leeks. That is inches apart. Yet, you can have them growing along the edge of the raised bed for better use of space.
You can also check out this handy DIY tool that makes spacing a breeze. Click here.
How to plant leeks?
- Using a dibble, insert six-inch-deep holes in the ground
- Place a single leek in each, leaving the green top over the ground level.
- Trim the roots if they are too long.
- Backfilling the holes is not necessary. They will, gradually, fill up every time you water. This will keep the soil loose around the leek and allow it to expand.
How to water leeks?
Leeks are cool-season crops, so rainfall should provide enough water. In case of a long dry spell, regular watering is a must to prevent soil from drying out. Otherwise, the plants become stressed and won’t grow properly.
How to fertilize leeks?
If the soil was well-prepared and balanced, there should not be a need for extra fertilization. However, you may use some liquid seaweed from time to time as insurance.
If you must use a fertilizer, it has to be high in phosphorous and potassium. These are the second and the third numbers on the bottle.
What is blanching?
Blanching is covering a part of a given vegetable, in this case, leeks, to get more of the white part. Blocking sunlight from reaching the covered part stops photosynthesis. Thus, the production of chlorophyll, which makes the plants green.
Other crops to which this is applicable are celery and cauliflower.
How to get a long white part on the leek?
The white part of the leek is buried in the ground. So, if the planting hole is deep enough, the white part would be too. Otherwise, cover the stem with more soil or some sort of cylinder, such as a paper roll.
Should I protect leeks from freeze?
Leeks are cool-season crops. They can handle a light frost and some freezing temperatures. Yet, in case of a prolonged cold front or a hard freeze, a sheet of row cover may be best to protect them. You can also use fleece or over-turned plastic pots as protection.
It takes approximately 120 days from planting to harvesting leeks. The good news is that you can harvest them anytime they reach the preferred size.
In central Texas, you can keep your leeks in the ground as perennials. Their growth will stall during the hot summer days but will resume once the cool season kicks in.
Use a garden fork to harvest the leeks without damage. Insert the fork near the base of the leek, then push on the handle to lift roots. Trying to pull the leeks risks breaking them.
How to save leek seeds?
Leeks are biennial plants that flower in their second year of growth. To save seeds, keep the plant in the ground to reach its blooming stage. It will shoot a hard stem from the center, which will hold the flower.
The flower is a ball-shaped cluster of tiny white florets. It attracts a lot of bees and other flying insects. Once pollinated, the tiny florets will turn into a small ball enclosing the seed.
Allow the flower to dry well before harvesting the seeds. Then rub it between your palms to release the seeds. They are small and black, very similar to nigella seeds.
How to clean leeks for use?
Leeks hold a lot of dirt between the folds. To clean them properly, follow these steps:
- Cut the leek lengthwise.
- Chop horizontally into pieces.
- Put them in a big bowl filled with cold water.
- Set aside for a few minutes, allowing the soil to sink.
- Scoop the leeks pieces using a strainer or your hands. Using a colander may put back the soil over the clean leeks.
- Repeat the process till satisfied.
In the kitchen
Due to their mild oniony flavor, leeks are a wonderful base for soups, quiches, and casseroles. If you like using a slow cooker, try replacing onions with leeks for a nice change. Here are some recipe suggestions.