Leeks have been cultivated as a herb and a food since before the building of pyramids. It is thought that the Romans discovered the leek in Egypt and introduced in to Britain along with many other vegetables and fruits.
Leeks have adapted well to grow in this country and will grow in warm or cool weather. Their main benefits are that they will stand in the soil through the winter to be pulled as required as a nutritious fresh vegetable. The leaves or stems may be used. With the advent of the leek shows in the North East two main types of leek have evolved. The pot leek, short and fat, thought to have come about by being measured to the length of a pint pot, 15cm (6”) at the time of printing. All leeks above 15cm (6”) are considered intermediate or blanch. Leek breeders have settled on variations of these blanch type leeks as being more commercially viable. Varieties are offered to the grower which can be for early use or which stand the hardest of winters.
Some have thick stems others with longer stems. Leek showmen would usually seek out the top showmen to acquire the best strains of pot or blanch leeks sold as “grass” or “pips” or plants. Growing from Seed Seed can be sown successfully from December until March in seed trays or modules in the greenhouse at 55/65 degrees Fahrenheit. The strongest plants are then pricked out into small pots or boxes. The plants are then grown on and hardened off before planting out during April/May. Leeks grow well in a rich soil which has been well supplied with well-rotted manure or well made compost. A good nitrogen rich fertiliser worked in will get them off to a good start.
Bare rooted plants from pricked out boxes may be simply dropped into a dibbed hole and watered in. The depth of the hole will blanch the stem, but more soil may be drawn up to the plants to gain extra length of blanch. Plants from pots may be planted on the surface where they will enjoy a greater depth of soil. Blanching may be carried out by wrapping black damp course material around the plant and securing in the shape of a tube. Using lengths of plastic tube or land drainage pipes is undesirable as the leek barrel may swell up and get stuck and be impossible to remove. Recommended varieties: Porvite, Pandora, Ardea and King Richard. Growing for Exhibition Growing from seed is only of use to the exhibitor in order to obtain a new strain of leek, as most leeks from seed may grow to all shapes and sizes.
The exhibitor therefore must propagate vegetatively from a top quality leek, preferably a prize winner. The flower seed is removed from the head during August/September. Vegetative growth can soon be seen which resembles blades of “grass” which grow from a swollen base. Sometimes the swollen base does not send out any growth, this depends on the variety or the growing conditions and resembles an orange “pip”. These “pips” or “grass” may be removed from the head during November/December and planted into pots of seed or potting compost. The advantages of this method is that the parent plant is cloned for its uniformity of shape, size and quality.
The plants are grown on sometimes with the aid of artificial light and planted under the protection of a greenhouse or polytunnel to enhance the size. Blanching may be started in the pots and the length increased during growth to the desired size, minimum of 350mm for “blanch leeks”. “Pot leeks” maximum length of 150mm to the button. Skill is required to keep “pot leeks” short and under 150mm at showtime.