If you've never tried leeks, you may be interested to include them in your fall garden this year. Actually, you can grow leeks year-round, but given their hardiness to cold, they make a great fall crop. If you live in an area with mild winters, you can even leave leeks in the ground during winter and harvest them in early spring. Now is the time to consider growing (and eating more) leeks.
Taking a Peek at Leeks, the Tall, Leafy Cousin of Garlic and Onions
Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum porrum) are a member of the allium family vegetables, closely related to garlic, onions, scallions and shallots. Given their thick green sheaths and long floppy leaves, leeks stand out in the crowd. In fact, leeks grow 12 to 30 inches tall, 9 to 12 inches wide and 1 to 2 inches in diameter.1
Often considered to be a root vegetable, leeks don't typically form a bulb. When it's been blanched and kept tender, you'll find the bottom 6 inches of a leek's leaf sheath to be the most edible and enjoyable part of the plant. When preparing leeks for eating, you can compost the tough upper leaves or use them to make stock. Due to their cold hardiness, you can plant leeks year-round. As such, they were featured in my article titled Plan and Plant Your Fall Garden Now.
Leeks are biennial and will grow a flower stalk in the second year. That said, you'll want to harvest them in the first year. Only allow leeks to bloom if you are interested in saving seed; otherwise, treat them as an annual.
Though they were once rarely seen outside of potato-leek soup in the American food mainstream, leeks are growing in popularity. They have a long history of culinary use around the world, including northern Europe. Thought to originate in the Mediterranean and Central Asia, leeks also were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and popularized by the Romans.2
The subtle, mild flavor of leeks adds depth to a variety of dishes, including salads, soups, stews and stir-fries. Leeks can be enjoyed cooked or uncooked. They add antioxidants, beneficial fiber, bulk and as well as important vitamins and minerals to any meal.
Suggested Leek Varieties You May Want to Try
Mother Earth News suggests types of leeks you may want to try, based on your choice of growing season, as follows:3
- Summer leeks: Lincoln, Kalima, King Richard, Rikor or Titan
- Fall and early winter varieties: Falltime, Imperial, Tadorna or Varna
- Winter-hardy types: American Flag, Blue Solaise, Giant Musselburgh, Siegfried or Winter Giant
In most U.S. regions, says Mother Earth News,4 the winter-hardy varieties will endure winter and resume growing in early spring when temperatures warm. If you plant winter-hardy leeks, be sure to mulch them well and harvest them in the spring before they flower and produce seed. If you wait to harvest them until late spring, chances are they will have turned woody. As such, to ensure the best flavor, harvest winter leeks between January and April.