Real Men Sow

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.

Such obsessions are difficult to shift, but the Patient Gardener Helen (a leek moth sufferer) made me feel better on Twitter saying she was laid back about crop losses.

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.

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  1. MariaOctober 4, 2011 at 2:28 pmReply

    If you want to try replacing your crop for this year (maybe planting them elsewhere to be safe from leek rust!) you can buy leek seedlings. I have done this this year for the first time – I don’t have space in my garden to plant them from seed, so in September I ripped up the courgette & cucumber plants and replaced them with leek seedlings (from see Autumn Planting under Seeds &Plants. They are sold out at present but might have more in future if you check back).
    Best of luck!

  2. Jono

    JonoOctober 4, 2011 at 4:37 pmReplyAuthor

    Thanks Maria, that’s a great idea. Will keep my eyes open and do some google searching.

    Will certainly plant them elsewhere too!

  3. HelenOctober 4, 2011 at 7:04 pmReply

    I was surprised that you planted yours out in March, mine didnt got out until July. I was thinking of growing an earlier variety to try and avoid the leek moth. I haven’t quite got the self-sufficiency bug yet so lossing the crop doesnt hit me as hard

  4. Jono

    JonoOctober 4, 2011 at 7:19 pmReplyAuthor

    Ooops, that’ll be a typo Helen!

    I meant May, not March, which might still be quite early.

    I think I’m the opposite of you – having only tinkered with gardening, I don’t worry too much if I lose a plant. Veg gets me down though.

  5. MariaOctober 4, 2011 at 8:08 pmReply

    My pleasure Jono. I got the idea from Alys Fowler (as ever) – she wrote a column about forgetting to plant PSB and buying seedlings to plant in Sept.
    PS Now I’m worrying if I should worry about leek rust in mine? will read up about it and keep an eye out!

  6. Hengest ThorssonOctober 4, 2011 at 8:33 pmReply

    I feel your pain Jono, I have had the very same happen to my leeks.

    To be fair I have had to neglect my allotment a lot this year so I am not sure that helped.

    • Jono

      JonoOctober 4, 2011 at 8:53 pmReplyAuthor

      Hi Hengest,

      Can understand that. I’ve not been on top of mine this year as I have in previous years. I wonder if the rust could have been prevented if I had noticed it earlier and pulled the leaves off before it took hold.

  7. Real Men Sow » Blog Archive » A Difficult Winter Ahead?October 13, 2011 at 6:38 pmReply

    [...] I posted last week about my leek rust loss. Three whole rows of my most valuable winter crop all taken by the disease was bad enough, but there’s lots more problems a foot. Plot 105 is not a happy ship… [...]

  8. Real Men Sow » Blog Archive » Come Dine With Me, Real Men Sow StyleDecember 11, 2011 at 7:17 pmReply

    [...] (Wow, that made me feel good! This time of year it feels like there isn’t much coming off the plot, but actually there is more than I thought. That’s a real confidence booster. If only I still had some leeks…) [...]

  9. Real Men Sow » Blog Archive » A Welcome Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pick Me UpMarch 4, 2012 at 8:40 pmReply

    [...] I’ve lost my leeks, the kale’s not been itself and my sprouts were tiny. Even the perpetual spinach hasn’t been as productive as normal, but the sight of PSB heads on my plants this morning certainly brought a smile to my face. [...]

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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