Pig For Victory No.25: Leeks

Leeks are often seen as the poor cousin of onions, they never reach the heights of the gourmet shallot or do not have the panache of Welsh onions or chives. Leeks are seen as faddy, you have to wash out any dirt that collects between the layers, washed in by the rain or sloppy hands but this is easily overcome when processing them. If you're afraid of biting down on some grit just slice your leek length ways and wash out under a tap. However, we have been eating leeks on Pig Row for over ten years and we have never, not once, found grit in our leeks. What we have found is a tasty vegetable that is diverse from the white flesh to the green tops. It has adorned stews, mash, cheese sauces, salads and have been roasted whole to accompany our Sunday lunches. Do not write off the leek, it fills a gap in the year and unlike onions and shallots is a hardy little bugger that will carry you through winter into spring.

We sow our seeds in five inch pots each March and then leave them to grow up like chives before planting them out from July onwards. We have even done a final planting as late as early October but have covered the crops with cloches to get them off to a good start. The leek variety we are sowing as part of the Wartime Garden is Monstrueux de Carentan Leek from Thomas Etty described as: 'By 1874. “Journal de l'Agriculture.” Vilmorin has this as a selection from Large Rouen Leek. “The largest & hardiest variety. 
Leaves same length as Musselburgh but much thicker & darker green. The long, thick neck is excellent for soups, stews, or creamed.” Here's how to do it, it is one of the most easiest of crops to sow, grow and harvest.

Old handles make great dibbers for leeks.

We use an old lawn cutter handle as a dibber. This allows you to create holes in the soil six inches apart to place the leek plants into.

Leeks ready to be planted out.

Here are the leek seedlings sown earlier in the year and aching to get into the soil. Give them a good drench from the watering can and set aside while you make the holes for them to go into.

Sticking in the dibber, dibbers don't have to be expensive. A hole is a hole!

In goes the dibber, six inches down, twist to loosen off the soil and pull out.

The exciting job of holes in the veg plot.

You will end up with a hole like this.

Teasing a leek isn't as bad as it sounds, no taunting, just twisting.

Tease out the leek seedlings from the pot and gently pull apart until you have individual leek seedlings. You can be a lazy gardener with leeks and sow a few in pots in April, then remove them from the pot in June and plant the whole lot as a bunch in the ground. You may not get large leeks but you will still get a really respectable crop and you can skip the traditional way of planting here. You will find trying to get your leek in the hole can often be frustrating. A simple trick to get round the problem of the roots sticking to the sides of the hole is to gently twist the leek seedling round and round until it reaches the bottom of the hole. 

A patch of leeks ready to grow and be eaten throughout the winter months.

After you have placed all your seedlings into their respective holes just water each hole. Do not firm the soil around the leeks, the water will wash earth around the roots. Firming soil around leeks can stunt their growth if you have heavy soil and we have never gone wrong with this old and trusted way of setting out a crop. You can harvest from August onwards right (if sown direct in March) through to January. However, at Pig Row we still harvest ours as late as April. You can get more white to your leek by drawing up the soil around the leeks as they grow to blanche the stems but don't underestimate the green part of the leek which is very tasty in stews and soups. Don't forget to water your leeks if the weather is dry. The key to good vegetable crops is water!

You can view more on our #wartimegarden plans on twitter and through the following links:

Wartime Garden: Harvest Festival

Digging for Victory: The Guardian Blog