Long Live Leeks: Grow Leeks Year Round

You'll find cold weather is no impediment when you grow leeks, a subtle yet flavorful cousin to onions and garlic. And you can harvest them right through the winter.

| December 2006/January 2007

A growing number of American gardeners and cooks are discovering that they love to grow leeks and cook leeks (Allium porrum). Though the leek was prized by Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors and European kings, it seems its sweet, subtle flavor has been upstaged in recent years by onions and garlic, its more assertive cousins. Big in size and deliciously mild in flavor, leeks are wonderfully versatile in the kitchen. You can use them cooked or uncooked; in soups, stews, casseroles and salads; or prepared simply on their own for an easy and satisfying winter dish. What’s more, leeks are one of the most durable vegetables you can grow. By selecting the right varieties, you can enjoy this tasty, nutritious crop year-round — including the dead of winter — making it a must for both home and market gardens.

Leek Longevity

You’ll find several leek varieties in seed catalogs, usually grouped by harvest time: summer, fall and winter. Most leeks can be harvested over a long period of time; in fact, the most cold-hardy varieties will maintain their good quality for months in the ground. “That’s the beauty of cold-hardy crops,” says John Navazio, director of education and research for the Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Wash. “Even though growth slows from around mid-October until early March, you can still harvest them at any time.” (Leek plants are biologically programmed to survive the winter months so they can flower and produce seed the second year.) Depending on snow cover and how far north you live, you’ll need to add enough leaves or straw to keep the ground from freezing so you can continue to harvest your leeks during the cold months. (Plastic bags of leaves work great, and are easy to remove when it’s time to dig.)

The most cold-hardy leeks — and best candidates for winter and spring harvest — usually are the ones with the longest “days to maturity.” Other clues to cold hardiness include leaf color and length of “stem” (the tender, white portion). As a rule of thumb, leeks with blue leaves and short, thick stems survive winter better than those with green leaves and tall, slender stems.

Organic market grower Sean Albiston of Blue Roof Organics in Stillwater, Minn., extends his harvest by growing ‘Varna,’ a tall and slender leek, for late summer to fall harvests and ‘American Flag’ and ‘Blue Solaise,’ two venerable heirlooms, for winter to spring harvests. All three varieties perform well in his cold Minnesota garden.

‘King Richard’ and ‘Giant Musselburgh’ also make an excellent combination for extended harvest, Navazio says. “‘King Richard’ is a good summer and fall leek — it’s nice and uniform but not very cold hardy. ‘Giant Musselburgh,’ which is shorter, is quite cold hardy. Even down to 15 degrees, most of the crop survives, so you can harvest it in January and February.”

‘Giant Musselburgh’ and ‘Blue Solaise’ also have proven winter hardy in the southeastern Pennsylvania garden of MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributing editor William Woys Weaver. A leek connoisseur, Weaver notes in his book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening that ‘Musselburgh’ “stands on its own … the tough reliability of this one takes it past a long list of leeks with much fancier names.”

3/10/2014 3:21:48 PM

About 2 months ago I got some organic leeks from the farmers market. They still had the roots attached so I cut off about half an inch with the root on and planted them. 6 out of 8 made it and are about 8 inches tall now. I also cut my scallions and chives about ground level and they continue to grow and have not had to plant new ones for years.

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