Tag Archives: Leeks

Leeks!

One of my favorite flavors to cook with is leeks. They have a unique and interesting mild onion taste and are part of the allium family that also includes onions, garlic, shallots, scallions and chives. Last year, I found I had wild leeks (ramps) on our WI property and have really enjoyed finding, harvesting and cooking with them (see Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)).

But they are only around for a short period in the spring, and I have to be careful not to harvest too many or run the risk of wiping out the wild colonies. I’d rather err on the side of harvesting too few than too many and be sorry in a few years.

So what to do? How about grow some cultivars in my own garden? I’ve already started growing my own garlic, onions, shallots and chives. So how about adding leeks!

It seems like as with most alliums in a home garden, it’s best to start with some type of starter plant or bulb rather than seeds. In that regard, a numbers of sources sell lots of different varieties of leek seeds, but only a couple of varieties come as starter plants. I decided to make it easy on myself and ordered King Richard (Allium porrum) starter plants from Johnny’s Seeds.

It was a toss up between the King Richard and Lancelot (Allium ampeloprasum) leek plants. King Richard is an early season leek, maturing in just 75 days, is frost-hardy but will not overwinter, while Lancelot is a mid season leek, maturing in 105 days, and is winter hardy.

My packet of starter leek plants came in early spring, a few weeks before the last frost date. Leeks are cold season plants, so they should be planted before the last frost date. They’ll tolerate a light frost just fine and need the extra growing time. Like garlic, shallots, and potatoes, they have their own unique way to be cultivated. In order to keep the nice white part of the leeks white, the growing plants need to be blanched, which means that part of the plant needs to be grown out of sunlight. You can grow them in trenches that you fill in as the plant grows, or plant in holes using a dibbler. I used the dribbler method, although I had to improvise with a thick garden stake last year. I now have a dibbler and it’ll be much easier to do this year.

In early spring, in light, soil poke holes with a dibbler or thick stake, 6 inches deep, 6 inches apart, in rows 24 inches apart. 

Drop one plant in each hole leaving only 1–2 inches of the leaves above the soil surface.

Do not fill in the soil around plants, but let rain or irrigation or rain slowly fill in the holes. This allows for self-blanching of the edible white part. If need be, later in summer soil can be pushed up against the growing plant to increase the white blanched part.

I staggered my leek and garlic plants since they are opposite in growing seasons (which is why my garden above in the planting photos looks “messy”). The garlic is planted in the fall and harvested mid-summer, the leeks planted in spring, harvested in late summer/fall. Leeks can be grown in between many early vegetables, but keep away from legumes like beans since the leeks will inhibit their growth.

Leeks can be harvested anytime late summer (after they get about 1 inch in diameter) through early winter. Best way is to dig around the plant to loosen the soil, and then give a good pull.

Most leeks are winter hardy and can withstand light to hard freezes depending on variety. Harvest as you need them, they stay fresher in the ground than in your refrigerator.

Unfortunately for me, I got a little cavalier with the plants in my Wi garden and the ground froze solid before I got all of the leeks out.  I’m hoping they survive the winter and I’ll have fresh spring leeks 😔

In early winter, before the ground freezes solid, harvest whatever you have left, peel off the dead outer leaves and trim the roots and leaves. Store in the refrigerator crisper drawer until needed.

To use in cooking, trim off the roots and cut off the tops where the white is turning light green. Generally, only the white and lightest green parts are used for cooking. Then cut in half and rinse well. Because of how they are grown, dirt and sand often finds its way between the leaves and needs to be rinsed out.

They can now be blanched for freezing, or used fresh in your favorite leek recipe. A few of mine are my Thanksgiving Leek, Apricot and Chestnut Stuffing (recipe here)

Shrimp, Leek and Spinach Pasta from Real Simple is wonderful for a quick, tasty dinner.

Spinach, Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche. The original recipe calls for chives, but I like to substitute sautéed leeks for the chives, and to simplify things I often use a refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust. This is a staple in our house for holiday brunches.

I’m getting ready to order my plants for this year. I think I’m going to try the Lancelot variety from Dixondale Farms. Lots of good advice on growing onions, leeks and shallots on their website.  Johnny’s has tons of great advice too!

So many ways to use these versatile, mild onions. What’s your favorite?

 

Happy New Year 2018!

Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you healthy and happy. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with my writing, but hopefully the new year will get me back on track. While I was still attentive to my garden all fall, I do most of my writing in the evenings and I got distracted the last few months watching all seven seasons of Game of Thrones with my husband. (In case you were thinking about watching, it was just as great as the kids said it is and the final season can’t come fast enough!)

But, that’s done and most shows don’t require that level of attention so I have my evenings back! We also did a fair amount of traveling to see visit the kids and out of town family and I’ll share some of the highlights of those trips in the next couple of months.

Lastly, I got a new laptop and the transition was pretty straightforward except for switching from Apple iPhoto to Photos. I procrastinated for a long time since I had everything organized so nicely in iPhoto for my blog, but it was time to convert. You’d think it would be as easy as say “Go”, but for a bunch of reasons, I couldn’t get it to transfer properly. Eventually I did it, but I’m still dealing with photos scattered about in a bit of a disorganized way. Does anyone use a photo manager to organize your photos? The edit features in Photos are fine, but I don’t love the organizational options.

What have I been up to in the garden? Well, like many of you it was a very strange fall with warm temperatures well into November keeping things green and growing well past normal times. Great for the vegetable garden, but probably not so great for the trees and shrubs that really need to get ready for winter. Here’s some of what I was harvesting the end of October.

I spent a lot of time this fall watering to be sure the plants were ready for winter (First Too Much Water, Now Not Nearly Enough). But, with temperatures hovering around 0°F for some time now, I’m not sure how the plants will tolerate this winter no matter what I did.

With all this cold weather, I’ve been going through a lot of bird seed trying to help the birds survive this extreme weather. Glad I bought lots of seed at the fall seed sale at my local Wild Bird Unlimited in Lisle, IL. By the way, they are currently having their January Feed sale, so if you live in the area it’s a great time to stock up. They even store it for you until you need it.

My new gardening adventure this year was planting leeks. Leeks are one of my favorite foods to cook with and growing them seemed intriguing. I’m already looking where to buy my starter plants this spring, so it definitely worked out well.  A post with more details will be coming soon.

Right now, all snuggled warm in my house I’m enjoying all the teaser emails from the seed companies and the catalogs that are starting to come in. What new vegetables to grow? What new gadgets to buy? Check out my Vendors and Resources page to see where I like to order from. I’ve recycled all the Christmas catalogs to make room for them. I have a couple of areas that need attention so I need to find some time to research what will work best in these areas. One is the swale area that seems perpetually wet, then of course dries out mid summer.

The other is under the new magnolia that replaced the Freeman maple tree that died a couple of years ago. The hostas are doing fine in the new found sun, but the ferns have gone crazy! Not sure the species, but in the shade they were kept in check, but they’ve proliferated out of control in the sun. And they are hard to pull out! Word to the wise, be careful where you plant ferns!

I look forward to sharing you more about what’s up in my garden and where I’ve been, but in the meantime I wish you all a Happy New Year and Go Bills!

While I live in Chicago, I grew up in Buffalo and will always be a Bills fan.  This has been an exciting year for us!!