The Only Guide You Need for Growing Leeks.

What makes a leek, a leek, is the tender white flesh.  The dark green leaves are tough and unusable other than for stock.  So how do you grow leeks with at least 10″ of white part?  Here’s how.

 

Me doing my very best “Floret” pose. 

Leeks are one of the things in the grocery store that I cringe when I have to buy them.  The other thing is celery which at the moment is $5 per bunch.  It’s like someone told celery it’s the new beef bones (which apparently used to be given away for free).  I blame the celery juicers and can’t wait for them to find a new vegetable to adore so I can go back to paying $1.99 for celery.  If they start up on potato juice I’ll have to kill them.

Last year I tried an advanced leek growing technique that completely changed my leek harvest. It was developed (or at least made popular) by Eliot Coleman. If you’re serious about vegetable gardening and getting the most out of your space and seasons you need to buy at least one of his books. 

Before I get into the technique I want to remind you a couple of things about growing leeks that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Leek Growing Tips

Leeks can be ruined by leek moths.  The moths lay eggs on the leeks which proceed to hatch and kill the leek.  You can lose an entire crop to them.  Here’s my post that explains them and the best ways to deal with them.

Didn’t remember to plant leek seeds back in February or March?  Not to worry, leek seedlings from gardening centres work perfectly well.

Leeks started in February or March and planted out in May or June will be ready for harvest in late summer or early fall.

Leeks started outside in May or June will overwinter and provide you with a spring crop.  That’s how I grew them this year. 


Eliot Coleman Leek Growing Technique

Leeks are normally grown by planting them in a trench and then hilling soil up around them as they grow.  There is no hilling with this technique and you actually, at one point, dig up the entire plant, cut it apart and replant it!

This technique can be used regardless of whether you’re growing a summer or spring crop of leeks.

 

  1. Plant your leeks.

2. Once they reach 10-12″ tall (like the ones you see in the photo above) carefully dig them up.  Yes. Dig up the leeks that you planted. You’re going to replant them into new  holes that you make with a dibber. 

This is the type of dibber you’ll need. You’ll have to make one, but it’s easy. It’s just a broom pole.


Your dibber needs to be specific. 

  • 1″ or so in diameter. (like a broom pole or even better a hardwood dowel)
  • Pointed on the bottom but flat.  Like a V.  The flatness on the bottom of the dibber is important because you’ll use it to create a flat surface at the bottom of your hole.
  • Something to indicate a 9″ mark from the bottom of the dibber point.  So masking tape, just a line of permanent marker or some type of disk fixed on the pole at the 9″ mark.  That’s what I did.

From the side and back your dibber will look like this …

I made my dibber out of an old broom handle and sanded the tip down with a belt sander. I also added a plastic cap 9″ up the neck of the dibber so I can push it in exactly 9″ for a 9″ deep hole.

That’s the magic depth for your leeks.  9″.

3. Using your dibber, punch holes in a new bed every 4″.  It’s easiest to do this if you’ve watered the soil, otherwise the dry soil just caves in the holes.  Once your dibber is pushed in 9″, twirl it around in a circle. This will make the flat bottom spin and create a nice flat surface at the bottom of the hole.

4. Once your holes are created, cut the roots of the leeks off to 1″.

 

5. And then cut the greens of them off so from tip to tip they measure 10″.

6. Drop one leek into each prepared hole.  

Your 10″ leeks will  now only be sticking out by an inch or two from the 9″ deep hole.

You’re done.

Eliot Coleman says that soil falls naturally into the holes, filling them in, with irrigation and weeding and such, but I didn’t find that to be completely the case with my leeks.  If you notice the holes aren’t filling in after a couple of weeks, just hand push some soil into them yourself.

Now you leave your leeks.  They will continue to grow and get taller and taller, while the portion 9″ underground will be getting bigger and bigger producing the most white you’ve ever seen on a leek.

When I mentioned earlier that you’re better using a dowel made of hardwood than a broom handle, it’s because I used a broom handle that was soft because I figured it would be easier to sand down into a point, which it was.  However it was also so soft that by the end of planting my leeks the tip was a muffled, mangled mess. It’s now unusable for another season so I’ll have to make another one … out of a hard wood dowel.

Now you just let your leeks do their thing and once they’re at least 1″ thick you can start pulling them.  

 

 

A Spring Leek Timeline.

  1. Plant seeds in February/March.
  2. Transplant outside to garden bed 2 weeks before first frost.
  3. Transplant leeks once they are 12″ high to a regular garden bed that’s been prepared with the dibber technique. (don’t forget to trim both ends of the leeks)
  4. Harvest leeks from August – November. 

A Spring Leek Timeline.

  1. Plant seeds outdoors in May-June in a nursery bed. (a  nursery bed is just a wood square that’s 6 inches deep or so filled with good potting soil). If you have small seedlings instead of seed you can plant them in a regular garden bed.
  2. Transplant leeks once they are 12″ high to a regular garden bed that’s been prepared with the dibber technique. (don’t forget to trim both ends of the leeks)
  3. Harvest leeks from March – May.

For these leeks, I started with seedlings I bought and planted in June. They were ready to transplant into their dibber holes in late July.  I started harvesting them in March and picked the majority of them the middle of May.

 

 

I had high hopes for this technique but really wasn’t prepared for what I was going to get.

 

The leeks weren’t huge in terms of thickness but they had more white on them than I’d ever seen on any leek anywhere.

You too can be this happy about your leek harvest.  

Using this growing technique, you’re guaranteed a minimum of 9″ of tender white leek.

When you first start growing vegetables it’s all about just getting things to grow.  As you get more experienced and obsessed it becomes about growing the very best vegetables you can.

Now.  What to do with all those leeks? My two favourite ways to use them are in potato leek soup of course, and tarts and quiches. Next week I’ll have an incredibly easy Leek Quiche recipe for you in fact.

Then there’s the roasted leek.  Cleaned, split in half and roasted in the oven at 350 F (175C), leeks become sweet and caramelized.  Just toss them in a coating of olive oil and roast them. That’s all you have to do to bring out their flavours.  After you’ve roasted them you’ll probably find the outer skin of the leek has gone dry and papery. Just peel it off before serving.

Next up of course will be mastering growing celery. 

 
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often broadcast dirt covered from my garden.←

 

24 Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    This is fascinating. What book of his was this tip in? I have one of them but I’m assuming not the same one!

  2. Marcia says:

    Totally sort of off topic, but on April Fools Day, my daughter started yelling about a leak in her bathroom. I ran in there and of course, there on the counter was an actual leek. She said she’d been planning that for a year.

  3. Kari says:

    This is how my grandfather and now I have always planted leeks :). We even have a self made leek hole puncher that makes 3 holes at a time even spacing. Thing is probably 60 years old lol!

    • Karen says:

      Ah! You must be European. At least your grandfather must be. If I remember correctly Eliot Coleman got some of his est ideas from France. ~ karen!

      • Kari says:

        Yes! Born, raised and residing Belgian girl and vegie grower. I actually haven’t ever seen it done diffrently, how do you do it beside like this?

        • Karen says:

          Leeks are normally planted once and then hilled up from the sides as they grow. As opposed to this version where you plant the leeks, then dig them up and cut them, and then replant them in a 9″ deep hole. 🙂 ~ karen!

  4. Jody says:

    Let’s talk about the beauty of that antique ruler….

  5. Paula says:

    Did you cover them in the winter?

  6. Nicole says:

    I remember watching Eliot Coleman and… I can’t remember the name of the woman… when they hosted a gardening show back in the 90s. No idea if it’s still on in Canada (I moved to the States in 1999). In fact I think I bought some of their (?) books (one was called Roses Love Garlic, I think?). I remember thinking that they must have so much produce that they’d pretty much have to become vegetarian just to try to get through it all. Sadly, I still like to read about gardening or watch it on TV more than I like to actually do it.

  7. Nancy says:

    I have to comment on how you mastered the perfect Floret pose! Next time have a glow surrounding you in the shot as well. They truly can make any flower look gorgeous, however only you, Karen, have mastered the beauty of the leek! Thanks for the (always) informative post!

    • TucsonPatty says:

      AND, her perfect French Tuck that Tan taught to us! Beautiful leeks, Karen.

      • Karen says:

        Who is Tan, lol?? I’ve been hearing this referred to as a “French Tuck” for the past few months. Is this a new term?? I just call it “how I tuck my shirt”, lol. ~ karen!

  8. Erin says:

    … I use the greens in cooking all the time. Honestly not sure why you wouldn’t, they’re delicious. I mean, don’t use the tip top of the leek, but for certain Chinese dishes, we use pretty much the whole damn thing. The one time I grew leeks, it didn’t end well at all, I’ll have to try this method!

    • Karen says:

      Most people don’t because they’re so, so tough. Simmered for hours, maybe, but otherwise they’re hard to get tender. One day I’ll try them in a stir fry or a soup and see what happens! ~ karen

  9. Mary W says:

    I love leeks and can’t wait to read your new recipe. These tips were great!

  10. Garth Wunsch says:

    I’ve read elsewhere that the tops should be cut off… do you know why?

  11. Darlene says:

    Well that certainly was interesting!!! Bought a 6 pkg of leeks that contained 66 if you can imagine. I will try this for sure, had room for 33 in our garden, and 4 separate pots full, gave 12 away on Kijiji. Can’t wait until they grow. Appreciate getting this info Karen, and book reference. Your leeks are beautiful.
    Have a fun day Karen!

  12. Lynn says:

    I am so impressed by your irrigation system!! That is my Achilles heal-a good drip/watering system. Can you elaborate on how you did this? For instance, in the leek bed, is this a soaker type hose? Also, is everything on a timer? Sampler Your system looks so efficient and wonderful…and I love how there are shut-offs
    at the ends of each row!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lynn! Sorry, I thought I linked to it in the post but maybe I forgot. Here’s the link to my post on the irrigation system. https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/drip-irrigation/ The shut offs are important and so handy! Garlic for instance needs to be dry for 2 weeks prior to harvesting so I need to be able to shut off the water to the garlic bed, but keep everything else watered. Or sometimes you only want to water something you just seeded … Have a look at the post. I outline the costs and exactly how to install the drip system. ~ karen!

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