Leeks are a popular winter vegetable belonging to the onion family but they are much easier to grow as compared to onions. They are available for consumption when most other vegetables are expensive, scarce or short in supply. Here is a leeks guide explaining how to grow leeks in winter conditions discussing various aspects of gardening:
Site and soil
Leeks are tolerant plants, which do not require any specific soil conditions except that the soil should not be water logged and freshly manured. The soil should be rich, firm, light moist and the site should be open and sunny with tolerable shade. Growing leeks require a slightly alkaline soil, which can be obtained by lightly dressing the soil with dolomite or lime if the pH of the soil is below 6.5. The leeks should not be grown at the same site each year as this, increases the chances of diseases and pests. To prepare the soil, dig it well, remove any weeds and work with plenty of manure to improve water retention. You can even improve the water drainage by mixing some horticultural sand. A good spread of fertilizer a week prior to sowing is ideal for growing leeks.
Sowing the leek seeds
Sowing leeks in winter means that you would get summer and autumn leeks as they need a long growing time of at least six months to reach a proper size. You can sow the leeks in two ways; either you may sow them directly at the site where they would grow or sow the seeds in a seed bed and then transplant them. Choosing either of the ways depends on personal requirement. If sowing seeds in the seed bed, sow them in rows, 30cms apart. Sow the seeds in shallow groove about one cm deep, cover it lightly with soil and water it. After about a month, thin out the plants every 15cms.
Planting the leeks
The ideal time to transplant leeks is when they attain the thickness of a pencil and are nearly eight inches tall. You can use a trowel or dibber to make vertical holes about six inches deep with a diameter of 2 inches. Trim the leaves and the roots and put the young leek in the hole and fill it with water.
Cultivation and after care of leeks
Growing leeks as mentioned is easy since they do not require much attention except that weeds are not allowed to grow. You have to see that the soil is well watered especially during the dry season. To keep the weeds down, hoe between the rows regularly. Cut the leaves that grow to be too long as they would tail on the ground and start to decay. Frost does not affect leeks so it is not a problem to grow leeks in winter.
Blanching the leeks
The leeks guide emphasizes on blanching the leeks so that more edible leeks can be produced. You need to blanch at several stages and for this you need to exclude the light from the stem so that there is prevention of chlorophyll production. You can mound soil around the stem or tie thin layers of cardboard or newspaper around the stem.
Harvesting the leeks
The best way to harvest the leeks is by using a spade as this would not break the stem. Leeks sown in winter would be ready for consumption in summer. They can be consumed fresh or after being refrigerated.
Things to note
When growing leeks you have to be careful of the pests and diseases that may harm the leeks. Although they are not susceptible to pest attacks yet some common pests that might damage the leeks are the onion fly, leek moth and the Allium Leaf Miner. Being biennial leeks can be grown twice and the seeds obtained.