One of my favourite things about winter has got to be leeks. They’re such a fab vegetable. Tasty, versatile, easy to grow and they smell absolutely amazing.
The pungent aroma that they immediately release the second you pull them from the ground is almost overpowering, and a real reminder of why homegrown food is so exciting.
If you take care of your leeks they’ll reward you all through winter and into spring. Here are a few wintery leek tips to make sure they reach your plate in tip-top condition.
Happy to stay in the ground
You can leave leeks in the ground all through winter, and pick them as and when you need them. They’re very hardy, so there is no need to dig your leeks up early if you don’t want to.
Don’t need a frost to improve them
Unlike other winter veg such as kale, cavolo nero, sprouts, and parsnips, leeks don’t need a frost to improve their taste or sweetness. They’re ready to go as soon as those chunky shanks are big enough.
Harvest with care!
When you harvest a leek, make sure you use a spade and dig around the root. Don’t be tempted to yank the leek up by the shank as they root pretty solidly and you can easily pull the bottom off.
Wash thoroughly as grits get into the top layers. No one wants to spoil a good leek.
The spindly ones will pick up in Spring – Beat the Hungry Gap!
A few years ago, I made an almost accidental late sowing of leeks which never really grew to much over summer. However, by mid-March, the leeks had undergone a sizeable growth spurt in the better weather, and I was harvesting fat leeks just as my early plantings had finished.
I went on to harvest leeks until June when the supply finally ran out. This made a real bonus contribution to the kitchen during the Hungry Gap.
Ever since I stumbled across this discovery, I’ve always sown a late batch of leeks to grow on in Spring and complement my main crop.
For Hungry Gap leeks, I normally plant out in June. If you use a pot sowing method, you can sow your seeds at the same time as your main crop and as long as you keep watering, the leeks will be fine outside in the pot until you’re ready to plant out.
Expensive in the shops
Another leek bonus is the money saved from growing them and it always surprises me how much leeks fetch in the shops. The cheapest of the large supermarkets sell organic leeks at £5 a kilo, and leeks featured regularly in my veg growing money-saving experiment of 2011.
If you’ve got some cheddar cheese too, then you can pretty much always make a meal, whether it’s a pasty, a tasty tart, or a winter warming leek and potato soup. But for me, you really can’t beat leeky cheese on toast. – it’s the perfect lunchtime reward for a rainy morning working on the plot.