How to Grow Everlasting Leeks
Leeks, those wonderful green and white vegetables that no decent home-made soup should be without, are normally considered to be annuals, that grow in their first year to become useful and productives veggies for the kitchen garden, and seed in their second year before dying.
Many gardeners collect the seed, sow it, and the whole growing cycle starts again.
There is another way to grow leeks, so that they effectively clone themselves, guaranteeing you a never-ending supply of them.
They may as well be called everlasting leeks, because that is basically what they become, reducing the man-hours needed to grow new plants from seed, year after year.
Leeks are an incredibly versatile vegetable, with wide-ranging uses in soups and main courses. Nearly all home-make soups benefit from the addition of a chopped up leek, and many main courses like chicken and leek pie require the use of leeks.
You will need leek seeds
How to Grow Leeks
From a packet of leek seeds, scatter the seeds over the surface of a good quality compost in a seed tray or pot, in the greenhouse, and water well.
Cover with a thin layer of compost, and keep moist.
When the growing leek seedlings threaten to overwhelm their container with their grass-like blades, and all risk of frost has passed, carefully remove handfuls with the roots intact, and plant each leek plant in ready prepared holes in the ground, about 8" - 10" apart,and water well.
Over the summer your leek plants will get bigger and bigger, and you can increase the desired 'white' sectiion that grows below ground by 'earthing up'.
This involves using a hoe to draw the surrounding earth over the base of the plant to cover as much of the growing stem as you can.
Do this regularly, and by autumn your leeks should be big enough to lift for use in the kitchen.
If you have too many, you can wash, chop and freeze leeks in individual plastic bags for use over the winter and following spring.
In the spring, you would start the whole cycle again by planting seeds in seed trays, inside a greenhouse, to ensure a crop for the following year.
How to force your leeks to become everlasting
In their second year, as they go to seed, take the seed head off its stalk instead of allowing it to develop fully.
If you have quite a few leeks growing in your garden, then get in the habit of de-heading the flowers each time you walk past.
They will keep trying to flower. You will keep stopping them.
After 2 or 3 attempts at flowering, the leek plant suddenly gives up, and sends out new shoots from the base instead.
Baby leek plants develop around the parent plant, that are exact clones of their parents.
In this way even your F1 hybrid leeks will reproduce and become exactly the same as their parents.
These offshoots will try to flower too, at the end of the first season, but no worries, you just take the flower heads off them, and they also send out shoots.
Each new plantlet can be lifted away from its parent and planted elsewhere in the garden, if you so wish, or left with the parent where they will grow into smaller versions of their parent.
At any time, preferably before they try to flower, you can lift any number of them from the garden, and wash and prepare them for either freezing or for use there and then.
You will have a limitless supply of leeks for years to come, and the only work required is the taking off of the flower heads as you walk past.
Harvest the parent leeks
The parent leeks that have tried to flower develop a central stem which is woody, hard and of no use in the kitchen, but the outer leaves are still fine for use, so you don't need to throw the whole plant away.
Simply lift the plant and discard the central core, then prepare as normal.
While many people seem to prefer the white part of leeks, I confess that the greens are the parts I use most often, especially in soups.
A member of the onion family, leeks give off a milder aromatic flavour than onions.
Leeks plants grown as outlined above are less likely to be attacked by slugs and snails because with the plants growing in close proximity to each other, the predators find it difficult to access those tender green leaves.
These young leeks are great for use in the kitchen, as all you simply have to do is remove any damaged outer leaves, if any, and the base where the roots are, then wash and prepare as normal.
You find you have full use of the plant for cooking instead of losing half of it to snails and dirt which works its way into the folds of the leaves.
Grown in clusters, the inner leaves of the young leeks remain untouched and very clean.
Transplant the leek offshoots elsewhere
If your leeks are becoming overgrown, and so many offshoots have grown that you feel they do not have the space to grow, then it is easy to transplant them elsewhere.
Simply dig over and prepare the ground as normal, then make a series of holes in the earth using the pole at the wrong end of many garden tools.
Dig up a clump of young leeks, taking care to cause minimal damages to their roots.
Tease the roots apart so that each plant is separated from its neighbor.
Place each small leek plant in the prepared holes, and water in well.