FEBRUARY – LEEKS!
In the cold crisp mornings of February on the allotment, there are a few stalwart vegetables growing away (or dormantly shivering in the cold!) that keep us from going hungry over the winter period. Leeks are one of those essential vegetables to grow and probably my favorite at this time of year!
Leeks are a part of the allium family and are a biennial, meaning that they flower in their second year as the days start to get longer and the weather starts to get warmer. Their flowers look like beautiful pink, purple or white pompoms on stalks which are great for bees and butterflies. They are a wonderfully un-fussy crop and have few problems. The can be hit by leek rust and leek moth but adequate protection and proper crop rotation will minimise the risk!
A short history!
Leeks have been cultivated and eaten since Ancient Egyptian times and have continued to be a part of the human diet ever since. It was a favourite of the Roman Emporer Nero and it was introduced in the British Isles by the Romans. We all know that the leek is the national emblem of Wales and in a battle in 633AD against Saxon invaders, the Welsh wore leeks on their hats to distinguish themselves from the enemy and subsequently won the battle and continue to wear (and eat) leeks on St David’s Day!
Why should we eat Leeks?
Leeks were thought to be one of the original ‘superfoods’ and an aphrodisiac increasing sexual desire especially when eaten with honey, sesame and almond! They are high in fibre, Vitamins A and K and contain flavanoids which can help protect the lining of your blood vessels. Leeks also are a good source of folate which can help protect the cardiovascular systems by regulating levels of homocysteine. Leeks and other alliums have many protective benefits for our cardiovascular systems! It is thought that Leeks may contribute to protection against cancer and low-level inflammatory disorders (although there is not much scientific evidence to support this – onions and garlic have been found to have these protective effects and it is assumed that Leeks do too!)
How to grow Leeks
Leeks are relatively easy to grow but require a long season and will happily sit in the ground over winter!
Sow your seeds thinly in pots of multi-purpose compost February to March or in a seed bed outside once the days are warmer. Keep the soil moist and seedlings should appear in 14-21 days.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant into larger pots, either potting up individually or pull the rootball of a clump apart and pot into a larger pot. If seedlings are in a seed bed then wait until they are ready to transplant to final position and then dig up a clump.
Transplant leeks to their final position when 15-20 cm tall into well cultivated, fertile soil. Space the leeks approximately 15cm apart into large holes that are approximately 15cm deep. Place a leek into each hole but do not fill the hole with soil. Water the leeks well so that soil is washed in and make sure that they are kept well watered. If transplanting out before the last frosts ensure that seedlings and transplants are covered with fleece or a cloche.
As leeks grow, pull soil up around the stems to ‘blanche’ the bottom part of the leek, being careful not to get soil between the leaves. Harvest leeks by loosening the roots with a garden or hand fork and then gently pull up by hand. Leeks are usually harvested before they start to flower although flower scapes can be eaten.
Top Tip – If you want to stop dirt from getting between the leaves of the leeks and still want that nice long white stem, cut sections of pipe and place over the leek. This blanches the stem and protects the leaves from dirt when it rains!
How to cook Leeks!
Leeks can be cooked in a number of ways including steamed, pan fried, stir fried, braised and sauteed. There are an amazing ingredient in any casserole, stew, soup or pie.
If you want to know more about Leeks then check out the links below!