Losing All My Leeks to Leek Rust, and Making Sure it Doesn’t Happen Again
I’ve never had to handle the loss of a whole ‘proper’ crop before. The badgers ate my sweetcorn a couple of times, but I looked upon the sweet cobs as a treat vegetable. I’ve never had a staple crop go wrong up until now, but unfortunately the time’s come for me to face up to a heartbreaking leek loss.
I put three rows in, and after a promising start they have been taken down by what looks like a serious case of leek rust. Sadly, I think they’ve had it.
Bitter Pill to Swallow
To lose such an important crop is a real downer, and one of those things that plays on your mind long after you’ve left the plot. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly when leeks have such a long growing season. I planted mine out in March (oops, meant May – Jono), and to see so much time and effort invested only for the whole lot to be wiped out is horrible.
Sitting on my bench at the weekends, chin slumped in hands watching my besieged leeks, was a low point on my allotment adventure so far.
Big Hole in my Kitchen and my Pocket
Leeks are great as they keep well in the ground through the winter, so normally I can just grab one or two when I need them. This has worked over the last two years, and I steadily harvested until spring. In 2011 for example, we used 6.3 kg of leeks.
Not only has this left a big hole in my kitchen, its also impacts my wallet too. I didn’t realize how expensive leeks were. My 2011 usage came to over 26 quid.
Preventing Leek Rust?
The big problem with leek rust is that I can’t seem to find a way of treating it. Mild cases don’t do much, and can be prevented by pulling infected bits off. My leeks always get a touch of rust, but grow on fine. However, serious infections like this year’s virus can kill the whole crop.
In fact, all it appears I can do is take measures to make sure it doesn’t happen to me again. Warm and humid conditions like we’ve experienced encourage the fungus to spread, so the best bet for next year is plant the leeks further apart to help reduce this and get the air flowing better.
Thinking back, I recall planting them closer than normal to cram as many in to the space as possible. I won’t be doing that again…
Other tips include burning the infected plants rather than composting them, and choosing a rust resistant variety, such as Neptune. Cleverer GYOers than me also recommend not putting too much nitrogen into the ground where the leeks are to grow, but ensuring there is plenty of potassium at the same time.
Learning to Be Laid Back About Losses
I’ve still not come to terms with a leek-less winter yet. They’re such an archetypal winter warmer vegetable, and my kitchen will be all the poorer for it. I’m really, really going to miss that pungent aroma that only homegrown leeks provide.
Helen’s right too, especially when you grow organically on a shared space. This attitude is important. I can work hard to keep the bad stuff away, but at the end of the day, my crops spend most of their time at the mercy of Mother Nature.
And there’s diddly squat I can do about her.