leeks

  • Grow at Home: Onions from sets

    two_rows_of_young_green_onionsOnions are easy to grow from baby onions; otherwise known as sets.

    It is also possible to grow them from seed which is very cost effective if you use a lot of onions.  However, sets are a lot easier and quicker.

    if you still want to grow from seed, check out our Grow at home: Onions from seed blog .  If not, read on.

    Planting Onions

    Onions grow best in open ground.  However, they do grow well in containers.  Just choose a deep planter to allow room for the developing onions.  Potato planters work very well if you only have a small space.  A Raised Bed System that comes with a cover to protect them would also work if you have more room.

    Wherever you plant them, onions need a sunny, sheltered site with fertile, well-drained soil. For best results test your soil .  Inexpensive kits are available from your garden centre to make sure the pH is above 6.5. You may need to improve the soil before planting.  A bucket of well-rotted manure or garden compost to every square metre (yard) and some general purpose fertiliser will do the trick.

    You can buy your onion sets from your garden Centre.  There are many different varieties to choose from.  So, select something that you would like.  Maybe something out of the ordinary like giant onions that you can show off, red onions for a bit of colour or shallots for your winters stews.

    When to plant your Onions

    You can plant onions in spring or autumn.  Depending on their final size, plant the onion sets 5-25cm (2-10in) apart in rows 25-30cm (10-12in) apart from mid-March to mid-April for spring planting.

    Autumn onions should be planted in mid September to mid October.  They will pretty much look after themselves over the winter.  You need to take care as they have a long growing season and won't be ready for harvesting until next summer.  As a result they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring.

    There are two ways to plant: either directly into your ground or planter or into Rootrainers.

    Which you use depends on the number of birds you have in your area.  Birds can be a problem lifting the new sets.  They aren't after the sets themselves but the earth worms that congregate in the microbe rich area around the roots (see this interesting blog about what goes on in the Rhizosphere for more info.) Starting your sets in Rootrainers means by the time that you plant them out the roots will be strong enough to keep your plants where you planted them!

    If you choose to plant direct into the ground or planter then either cover with a Fleece Tunnel  or stretch some Birdscare across your bed until the roots are established.  This will give the  plants time to establish and be too firm for birds to pull out.

    However you choose to plant do it by gently pushing the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the pointed tip is just showing, and firm the soil around them.

    Weeding and Watering Onions

    It is important to keep the weeds down as this can affect the size of your onions. Water when dry and give an occasional feed with a general liquid fertiliser. Stop watering and feeding once the onions have swollen in mid summer

    When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, you can bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Some gardeners swear by this but not everyone agrees with it any more so you may want to try it and see how you get on.

    Remove any flower spikes as soon as you see them.

    Harvest & Storage

    Onions_large_pile_of_small_brown_onions_fills_frameOnions can be harvested when the foliage starts to turn yellow and topple over. For spring planted sets this will be in late summer to early autumn. And for winter planted sets this will be early to mid summer.

    Lift the bulbs as you need them, ideally before the foliage completely dies down.  Importantly,  don’t let them rot in the ground so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie on a rack in the sun outdoors or a well-ventilated greenhouse for one to two weeks to ripen fully. They are ready for storage once the foliage is dry and papery,

    Only store the onions that are perfect. Store them either in natural jute Vegetable Sacks hung up or in old tights knotting after each onion. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

    Pest & Diseases

    Fungal diseases are the main problem for onions.  White Onion rot, Leek Rust and Onion Downy mildew are the main culprits.

    There is little you can do about any of these once they have taken hold so prevention is the answer.  Use the correct spacings to make sure there is plenty of light and air around each plant as humidity will encourage the spread of fungus.  Weed regularly and avoid overhead watering if possible. Remove infected leaves and dispose of away from the garden.  Fungus can be transported in contaminated soil, for example on muddy tools or boots. So take particular care not to pass it on to the next garden or allotment when you visit.

    Top Tip

    When peeling chopped onions, either use a ceramic knife - the extra sharpness means less crushing and so less vapour.  Or light a couple of candles.  The candle flames should absorb most of the vapours from the onions and stop your eyes watering, .

  • Grow at Home: Leeks

    What are they?Leeks_in_soil

    Leeks, which are famous as the Welsh national emblem, are related to the onion but easier to grow.  They have flat overlapping leaves forming an elongated cylindrical bulb which together with the leaf base, is eaten as a vegetable. They generally mature in autumn/winter and hence are a tasty addition to any winter stew or soup such as your classic Leek and Potato.

    Types

    As with other plants there are three main varieties – early, mid season and late. So decide which ones you want to have or get all three. I would just go for one variety as I want as many different vegetables growing in my patch as possible. It depends how many leeks your household gets through...

    Planting

    SOW SEEDS IN GREENHOUSE/ON WINDOWSILL:       February to April

    SOW SEEDS DIRECTLY OUTDOORS:                            March to April

    TRANSPLANT OUTDOORS:                                             May to July

    DEPTH TO PLANT SEEDS:                                               ½” (2cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN ROWS:                                         12” (30cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN PLANTS:                                       6” (15cm)

    Soil Type

    Leeks are tolerant of a wide variety of soil types but prefer firm, well drained soil.  A safe bet is to dig well rotted garden compost into your soil.  Freshly manured soil is not suitable.  There will be too much leaf growth and the resulting leeks will be coarse, tough and no good for eating. 

    When to Plant

    There are 3 sowing dates for leeks – if planting from seed they should be sown in Rootrainers before planting out

    Variety Sow Plant Out
    Summer and Autumn (Hannibal)

     

    February Mid April
    Autumn & Winter(Blue-green winter, Northern lights)

     

    Mid March Mid May
    Late Winter (Blue Solaise)

     

    Early May Early June

    It is usual to start the seeds off in containers or a seedbed before moving them to their final position once they are established.  This is because sowing them directly into their final position takes up a lot of space which could be being used for fast growing crops such as lettuce. Leeks are perfectly happy to start off in the greenhouse or windowsill and move when your salads are done. 

    Growing from seed is easy and germination rates are high.  Sow your seeds into Rootrainers or small 3” (8cm) pots.Germination should take from 14-21 days.
    Start thinning the seedlings out straight away.  Thin to about 2" (5cm) the first time as some of the plants may die, and then thin again when everything seems to be going well, so that the plants are about 4" (10 cm) apart.

    If you don't want to plant seeds you could also let someone else do the work and buy established seedlings and plant out as the weather permits.

    Planting Out

    When the leeks are about 8" (20cm) tall, plant them into their final positions. If possible plant when the weather is showery, if not then water them well. Keep watering well until they are really established.

    To ensure you get lovely blanched stems make a deep hole around 6" (15cm) to plant the leek.  Fill in with an inch or two of soil and allow the remainder of the hole to fill up with soil as it is washed in with watering.  This will ensure some white stem on your leek which many think is enough (both white and green parts of the leek are edible).  If you want more white and less green though, see the section below on Blanching, for how to use collars.  

    Where to plantContainer_Leeks_in_snow

    When choosing the site to sow leeks make sure you consider that you might want to leave them in the ground to be dug as required during the winter months, and you could leave them in the ground for a year or more.

    It is not advisable to grow leeks in the same place year after year as there will be an increased risk of pests and diseases such as Leek Rust. 

    In crop rotation, leeks follow lettuce, cabbage or peas.  Many people leave planting their leeks until immediately after lifting early potatoes. However, do not plant them where the potatoes were as the soil will be too loose and disturbed and leeks do best on a firm soil.

    Feeding

    Leeks need food and will benefit from a sprinkle of something like a seaweed feed around the roots. This will increase the thickness of the leeks. Don’t feed overwintering leeks after August.

    Blanchingpulled_leeks

    The leeks you buy in the supermarket will have long white stems.  To increase the length of white stem in your home grown leek, blanch the stem by gently drawing up dry soil around the stem in stages.  Start this process in August. 

    If you have your leeks growing in a trench, gradually fill the trench in with soil to the bottom of the lowest leaves each time until the plants have finished growing, which will probably be around mid to late autumn. You are aiming for 4-6" (10-15 cm) of blanched stems. Use dry, fine soil to do this as wet soil will cause rot to set in and lumpy soil wont keep out the light properly.

    If your leeks are growing in a flat bed or container, push the soil up around the plants increasing the soil depth by about 2" (5 cm) each time. You can keep the stems free of soil by using collars.  Secure them around the leeks leaving around 5" (12.5cm) of leaf showing. 

    Collars

    Get your recycling hat on for this bit as many materials are suitable to make a collars. For instance, sawn lengths of plastic piping, the middle of toilet rolls and wrapping paper, or brown paper tied up with string or rubber bands. Whatever type of collar you decide on the minimum diameter should be 3" (7.5 cm) and 12-15" (30-37.5cm) long. Attach the collars before carrying out the earthing-up process.  The collar will keep the light out and the soil will stop it blowing away in the wind.  As the plants grow, draw up more and more soil adding another collar if needed.

    This will increase the amount of the plant that is edible and improve the flavour.  Keep the soil from falling between the leaves otherwise you will have a lot of cleaning to do or risk gritty stew!

    Harvesting

    HARVEST: September to Mayfrosty_baby_leeks

    Harvest your leeks by lifting gently with a fork, either as pencil thin baby leeks or as fully grown 3” (8cm) diameter ones.

    If you want to eat them then do not let your leeks flower as the leek turns into a woody stem once the plant flowers and is too tough to eat.  Leek flowers are a very decorative addition to the garden though so you might want to let some of them flower as they will produce seeds that you can happily collect to use the following year.

    Eating

    Leeks will stay fresh for 1 to 2 weeks if stored in a cool place. Once harvested they are delicious in soups or stews or try them in a white sauce covered in cheese and grilled.  A perfect side dish for your Sunday roast and a lovely vegetarian lunch in its own right..       

  • Lush Leftovers: Soy, Chilli Brussels Sprouts with leeks & carrots

    I'm thinking you will have leftover sprouts from christmas dinner to use up so here is a lovely quick recipe.  Years of careful breeding mean that sprouts are no longer as bitter as they once were and this new sweetness, combined with the honey and soy might just convert sprout haters.  If you can get them to try it...

    Ingredientsbrussel_sprouts_on_plant

    • 250g (8oz) Brussels sprouts, halved
    • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1 leek, finely sliced
    • 1 small onion finely sliced
    • 2cm (1in) piece fresh ginger, finely sliced
    • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
    • 1 red chilli, seeded and finely sliced (or used chilli flakes or dried chilli to taste if you don't have fresh)
    • 1 large carrot, grated
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tsp clear honey
    • 150g (5oz) dried noodles

    Method

    1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the sprouts and cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Drain and rinse under cold water. Pat dry and set aside.  If your sprouts are already cooked then miss this step out and skip to step 2.  You may wish to leave them whole rather than halving them if they are already quite soft.
    2. Cook the noodles according to pack instructions and run under cold water and set aside.  Or you can use 'straight to wok' ones if you have these to hand.
    3. Put the oil in a wok over a medium high heat. Add the leek and onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the sprouts, stir-fry for 2 minutes more, then add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Stir-fry for a further minute, until fragrant, then add the carrot.  Stir fry for 1 minute more then add the soy sauce and honey. Toss to combine.
    4. Add the noodles and stir-fry until combined and heated through. Serve.

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