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Know your Leeks

  • The leek, Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum (L.), also sometimes known as Allium porrum, is a vegetable which belongs, along with the onion and garlic, to the Alliaceae family. 

  • Two related vegetables, the elephant garlic and kurrat, are also variant subspecies of Allium ampeloprasum, although different in their uses as food.

  • The edible part of the leek plant is a bundle of leaf sheaths which is sometimes called a stem or stalk.

  • Rather than forming a tight bulb like the onion, the leek produces a long cylinder of bundled leaf sheaths which are generally blanched by pushing soil around them (trenching). 

  • They are often sold as small seedlings in seed trays (flats) which are started off early in greenhouses, to be planted out as weather permits. 

  • Once established in the garden, leeks are hardy; many varieties can be left in the ground during the winter to be harvested as needed.

  • Leek cultivars can be subdivided in several ways, but the most common types are “summer leeks”, intended for harvest in the season when planted, and overwintering leeks, meant to be harvested in the spring of the year following planting. 

  • Summer leek types are generally smaller than overwintering types; overwintering types are generally more strongly flavored. 

  • Overwintering varieties include King Richard and Tadorna Blue.

  • Leeks are easy to grow from seed and tolerate standing in the plot or field for an extended harvest. 

  • Leeks usually reach maturity in the autumn months, and they have few pest or disease problems. 

  • Leeks can be bunched and harvested early when they are about the size of a finger or pencil, or they can be thinned and allowed to grow to a much larger mature size. 

  • Ridging leeks can produce better specimens.

  • This milder cousin of the onion is great in soups and with meat dishes. 

  • If you have the proper climate, and put in a little extra effort, you can grow a leek that is almost a meal in itself.

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