Ornamental Edibles for Your Kitchen
Subspecies: Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum
Leeks have a flavor similar to mild onions. They are most often used in soups, but are used in many dishes where a hint of onion flavor is desired.
Although they are not as well known for general cooking purposes, leeks are the most popular onion type plant to use in soups and are sometimes called the ‘asparagus of the poor.’ The ancient texts of the Egyptians, Israelites, and Mesopotamians record the use of leeks as a food staple. Read on for our full guide on how to grow leeks in your own garden.
Growing leeks starts best with seeds planted directly in the ground. The soil needs to be around 45° -95°F to occur within 5 – 7 days.
Leeks need loose soil in a location that has good drainage. Raised beds are ideal. Leeks mix well as a integrated companion plant with other vegetables. Do not plant leeks where onions have been grown in successive years.
Seeds need to be planted at a depth of ½ inch. There should be 1 inch between seeds and 20 inches between rows. Thin the successful seedlings to one plant per 6 inches along the row.
As the seedling grow, form small hills around the base of each plant. Gently increase the size of the hill as the plants grow. Alternatively, cardboard tubing can be set around the base of each plant.
Early varieties should be planted after last frost if leeks will be harvested in summer.
If leeks will be grown for fall and winter harvest, choose varieties that are labeled either ‘late’ or ‘hardy.’ The late varieties can take as long as 100 days to reach maturity, but will withstand late fall and early winter temperatures. Some can be left in the ground and harvested even after snowfall. If they are heavily mulched they can be harvested throughout the winter in zones 6 and farther south.
Using row covers made of netting or tightly woven cheesecloth will help protect the plants from Onion maggot damage.
Leeks should have their roots and tips trimmed off before being used for cooking. The most edible and tender portion is the white and the crispest part of the greens. The leeks should be sliced length wise before washing. This will help remove soil that has deposited inside the leeks as they were growing.
They can be chopped and frozen, but will retain their flavor better if minced and dried for future use in recipes with a high liquid content. The chopped and dried leeks should be stored in plastic bags or in air tight containers. Leek soup freezes well, and the leeks within will retain their flavor without turning bitter.