How to Grow Leeks- An Easy Cool Season Crop
Want to talk about a plant-it-and-forget-it crop? Leeks are not only delicious, but they are extremely low maintenance, easy to grow from seed, and take up very little space! The best news might be that, even in a garden typically plagued by pests, leeks tend to remain pest free! Read below for my favorite way to grow leeks from garden to table.
My Easy Way to Grow Leeks From Seed
I’ve read that leeks can almost be grown year round in most areas, but there is a reason I don’t do that. First, as an urban gardener, I have space constraints. In order to grow a wide selection of seasonal vegetables all year, I need to grow things during their “prime” growing window and make the most of my space. Second, leeks actually taste sweeter when touched by a little cold in maturity, so I prefer to grow them as part of my Winter and early Spring garden.
NOTE: Ideally, I start my leek seeds in Fall and sometimes start a second round in early Spring. If I only do one planting, I choose Fall over Spring. Leeks store well in the ground as well, and taste best when they mature when temps are cooler.
Sowing leek seeds
This sowing method is basically the same as my carrot sowing method.
You’ll need your favorite seed starting mix and a seed starting tray or pots. For a makeshift tray, I used an old plant tray from a garden center and lined it with landscape fabric (pictured below).
Pre-moisten your seed starting mix. This makes the whole process easier.
Fill your seed starting tray with your soil mix, but leave about 1/4 inch head space for more soil.
Spread a generous layer of seeds all over the surface. Leeks grow well close together, and you can go back and separate the seedlings later. By sowing your seeds close together you are saving yourself space while starting a lot of seeds.
Cover your seeds with about 1/4″ layer of seed starting mix that has been pre-moistened.
Keep your seeds in a warm area (either indoors or outside) and wait for your seeds to germinate. This can take between 7-14 days. Make sure you keep the soil moist for optimal germination. Since I usually start my leek seeds in Fall, the outside temps are fine for germination. That’s one thing I love about starting a winter garden in Southern California!
Transplanting Leeks into the Garden
You can transplant your leeks into the garden as long as no hard frosts are anticipated while they are young and fragile. If you started your leek seeds indoors, don’t forget to harden off your seedlings to help them adjust to outside temperatures.
Take a hand shovel and pull out a chunk of leek seedlings. Carefully use your fingers to separate each seedling. You’ll be able to see the root system of each one— WATCH my youtube video below for a tutorial on separating and transplanting leek seedlings.
Dig a hole about 4 inches deep for each leek. You want to be sure to completely cover the white bottom part of the seedling along with some of the green. Planting leeks deeply will help them develop better stalks for cooking. Many chefs believe that the best leeks have large, long white stalks so many farmers actually hill up around their leeks as they grow to blanch. Personally, I just plant deeply in the beginning and don’t bother doing anything else with my leeks. One of my fellow gardeners actually feels that the lighter green part of the stalks tastes better!
Soil & Sun Requirements
Leeks like rich, loamy soil full of organic matter. They are also heavy feeders, so you could fertilize with a fish or kelp fertilizer throughout the season OR top the bed with a layer of compost prior to planting.
Keep them well watered like most vegetables. Don’t let the soil completely dry out.
Plant leeks in a full sun location.
How and When to Harvest Leeks
You can harvest leeks at different stages, but the ideal time is when the stalks have reach about 1/2″-1″ in diameter.
In my experience, it is easier to harvest leeks if you take a garden fork and loosen up the soil around them before digging up. Leeks can be heavily rooted in the soil, and if you just try and yank them up they can easily snap and break!
If your leeks start to bolt, they can get tough/chewy. You can harvest the leek and see what you can save of the bottom (white) portion. You might need to tear off a lot of the outer leaves to get to a more tender, edible part. Chop it up for soup and compost the rest!
My favorite leek variety & Way to eat them
So far the ‘Blue Solaise‘ leek has performed very well in my Southern California garden. It is a historic French variety that does have a reputation for withstanding extreme cold. It’s a pretty short season leek, that can go from seed to harvest in about 100-120 days.
Want a delicious meal that’s ready in about 20 minutes? Our favorite potato leek soup is from Jacques Pepin. It’s classic, easy, and heartwarming! Check out the recipe HERE.
⇓ Who is ready for some leek and potato soup? Have you ever tried to grow them? Leave me your thoughts below⇓
PS: Tag me in your garden posts with #FreckledCA on Instagram!