Jane McLeod: Leeks a cook’s unlikely ally
Steamboat Springs — There are a lot of reasons to grow leeks, the main one being they are one of a cook’s greatest allies in the kitchen, delivering rich, wonderful flavor to culinary dishes. Even though they are easy to grow, are cold-hardy, are pest-free and require little care, they are very much a lowly poster child of the vegetable patch. Admittedly, they require a longer frost-free growing season than we usually can deliver, but that is solved by starting seeds inside at least six weeks before planting or buying seedling transplants that will mature into proper size leeks by summer’s end. Experiment with different varieties for cold hardiness (blue solaise) and earlier maturation (King Richard).
Full sun, deep, fertile soil with rich compost, good drainage, thorough waterings, weed maintenance and time will make for a good leek crop. Feeding with a fish emulsion every month also greatly helps the process. To keep the leek shank blanched until it matures to full size, plant leek seedlings in a 6-inch-deep trench that is gradually filled as the plant shank grows. I find this much easier than trying to bank them up with soil above the surface. If you do mound the soil, do it to just short of where the leaf joins the stem in order to keep it out of the shanks. Keep in mind that leeks also have big root systems, so allow room, setting them 4 to 6 inches apart, for good development. The seedlings are hardy but should be at least a couple of inches tall when transplanted to ensure survival. Unlike their onion cousins that form a bulb (a function of day length more than temperature) a leek’s growth is not sensitive to day length and, with protection, only needs to be finally harvested before the ground freezes.
There is sometimes a misconception that leeks are strong-tasting, but the opposite is actually true, as leeks are the mildest member of the onion family. Leeks don’t have to be grown to the monstrous size (this can take from four to seven months) you often see in the market as they are more tender and flavorful when they are smaller in diameter. Harvest them any time — pencil thin and up — but an average of three months from start to finish will produce baby leeks with stems anywhere from a half-inch to 2 inches thick. I haven’t tried it yet, but apparently trimming off the top of the leaves, about halfway up the plant as it matures, encourages stalk growth. To harvest mature leeks, arm yourself with a garden fork as their root system can make it difficult to harvest successfully just by yanking on them. The white and lightest-green portion of the leek is consumed directly, but save the leek greens to enrich stock or soups. Leeks don’t store well, maybe a week in the refrigerator vegetable drawer, so harvest them as needed — they’ll just be sitting there — waiting.
Patience is probably the biggest ingredient needed for growing leeks, but soon you’ll see they are indispensable in the kitchen, and you’ll find yourself using them more and more and with excellent results.
Jane McLeod is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Extension Office in Routt County. For more information, call 970-879-0825.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
In an effort to make Steamboat Springs Transit buses safer and more accessible, solar-powered lighting in bus shelters and a GPS-triggered automatic voice system that will announce stops in English and Spanish are being implemented.