Lately leeks have become available at my supermarket, and I’ve enjoyed cooking with them. Are they hard to grow?—SW, Troy, Mich.
Answer: Although they aren’t among the most common citizens of vegetable gardens, leeks are fairly easy to grow. They are tasty, easy to cook with, pest free and can be harvested well after frost has finished most of the rest of the veggie patch. They have a long growing season, fully ready to harvest after about 100 days.
It’s easy to start leeks from seed. Click here to learn how. Or you can buy a pot of leeks from the garden center in early spring; generally you’ll get about 50 seedlings growing in a single potted clump. Simply pull them apart—it does them no harm. Use a shovel to make trenches about six inches deep and six inches wide, spaced 18 inches apart. Plant the seedlings in the bottom of each trench, setting them six inches apart. Water to settle the soil around the roots.
In a few weeks, when the leeks are established, begin filling in the trenches with soil a little at a time. The object is to cover the lower part of the stem so it will blanch and elongate, which gives you a larger area of tender white stem. The leeks will be easier to clean at harvest time if you take care not to pile soil above the point where the leaves branch out from the stem. Leeks are heavy feeders; work in a scattering of fertilizer each time you back fill. When the trenches are full, usually by late summer, you can pile more soil or compost between the rows to blanch the stems further. Be sure to keep the leek bed well watered.
After 100 days or so the leeks will be robust and ready to harvest. They don’t mind frost or even light snow, so you’ll enjoy your efforts well into winter.