The Roman emperor Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but he did like his leeks. Egyptians grew them from at least the 2nd millennium B.C.E. As did the Mesopotamians. The leek is the national symbol of Wales, originating from a battle in a leek field (Wikipedia). I’m sure there were a few farmers weeping for their trampled leeks after the battle. Americans have generally missed the leek boat. In the grocery store, leeks are very expensive. I once calculated that the leeks for leek soup would cost me $16! Better to grow your own leeks. It’s easy.
Leek seeds can be started in pots or plots, closely seeded and then transplanted to a permanent bed when about 6 inches tall. Or direct seeded in the garden in spring. Or purchased as seedlings to plant out when the weather warms. If you live where winters are cold, you’ll have to grow autumn leeks, which are harvested before the ground freezes. Here in the Pacific Northwest, on the wet side of the mountains, leeks overwinter in the ground. I generally plant Giant Musselburgh, a very hardy overwintering variety, and American Flag, which was the only variety left on the seed stands by the time I room to plant leeks last summer. Check your local nursery or county extension agent for advice on growing leeks in your locale.
Last summer, after I planted my summer crops, and was waiting to harvest the garlics, I ran out of room to plant leeks. It was a dark day for my garden. No leeks was a catastrophe of huge proportion. Crisis gardening kicked in. So I started seed in gallon pots, in June, thinking to transplant the starts later in summer. It was a continuing crisis from the start. First, the pots that were planted on June 2 sprouted on June 7, but they weren’t leeks! My first thought was that a seed packaging intern had mixed up the seeds. My second thought was that I had lost my mind and mixed up the seed myself. The first theory was more comforting. So I planted another series of pots of leeks. And waited. The grass-like leek seedlings finally appeared, I pulled out the invaders (radishes?), and kept the seedlings watered.
By August a raised bed was free, so I added a couple of inches of compost, some organic fertilizer, and prepared to transplant the seedlings. Growing leeks in raised beds is not as convenient as growing in a long row in a grounded garden. Trenches have to be dug, which means I have to move a lot of soil out of the way, before bringing it back as the leeks grow. Mounding alongside the trenches is not possible in my beds unless the soil level has decreased considerably, so I cart away the soil, and then blanch the leeks by filling in the trenches with compost or the removed soil as the leeks grow. So, dig a trench at least 6 inches deep. The white part of the leek is the edible part, and the longer the blanched part is, the more food you get. So, the deeper the trench, the more blanched leek you get.
Gently dump the pot of seedlings into a bucket filled with about 6 inches of water, keeping the seedlings upright, and gently disentangle the roots of the seedlings. Then lay the seedlings in the trenches 2 to 4 inches apart, and fill in soil to the leaf joint, keeping the seedling vertical. I pack 4 rows of leeks in a 4-foot wide bed. Too close according to most advice, but it works for me. And we do need lots of leeks.
Harvest your leeks by digging with a shovel or garden fork. If you try to pull them, they’ll break off. You can eat leeks at any size (like all onions), but I usually wait until they’re large enough to make soup.
Here’s a recipe I adapted from a Food Network recipe: Creamy Leek and Potato Soup.
Leek and Potato Soup
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 cups of leeks, chopped (use all of the white part and into the green an inch or so)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 can or box of chicken stock
- 2 cups of boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
- salt and white pepper
- chopped fresh parsley for garnish, if you have it
- olive oil for drizzle
- In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the chicken stock and potatoes. At this time you can add about 2 cups of water.
- Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Blend with an immersion blender, or puree until smooth in a blender or food processor. Add more water if needed.
- Season with salt and white pepper.
- Ladle into bowls, garnish with parsley or cracked black pepper, drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil
Note: you can add 1/2 cup of cream to this recipe for a creamier soup.