Essential flavourings for cold season soups and stews, garlic, leeks, chives and onions are the kitchen garden’s storm troopers against winter colds and influenza. All members of the genus Allium, they have a long list of medicinal properties that include antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and expectorant actions.
Leeks can be sown any time from January to April. They grow easily in most types of soil and need a steady supply of moisture. They are not troubled by pests and diseases.
- Dig deeply, at least 60cm down, to allow for the length of the ‘blanched’ stems and the extensive roots.
- Enrich the beds by digging in as much compost as possible.
- Seed can be sown directly but it is better to sow in seed trays at a depth of 8-10mm. The seedlings transplant easily.
- Keep moist during germination. Seed may take time to germinate, so don’t lose patience.
- Transplant when the seedlings are big enough to handle.
- If they are longer than 15cm, trim the tops and the roots.
- Space plants 15cm apart. Make holes 15-20cm deep and 3-4cm wide.
- Drop a seedling into each hole but do not firm down the soil.
- When plants are about 20cm high, feed them with a general garden fertiliser and feed monthly after that.
- As the plant grows, gradually mound up the soil against the stems up to the leaf sheaf, making sure not to cover it. This is done to encourage the long stems to stay white.
Harvesting and using
Leeks can be harvested at almost any time if used for flavouring. The green leafy tops are the most delicious part so don’t discard them. Slice them finely and add to salads, stir in to egg and cheese dishes, or add them at the end of cooking so that you don’t lose their delicate taste. Growth to maturity, and a more developed white stem, takes about four months. For the best flavour, add leeks at the end of cooking and not at the beginning (despite what so many recipes recommend). They have a distinct onion flavour but it is much milder.