Making good use of space – time to plant leeksPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
As crops are harvested and the remains of the parent plants are cleared away an added to the compost heap, large patches of bare ground begin to appear on your allotment. If left, weeds will soon pop up and fill the space. With a bit of forward planning the tiny plants - such as leeks - which you have raised from seed sown a few weeks ago will be ready for planting out over the coming weeks and the unsightly gaps in your allotment will soon be filled. Don’t forget to prepare the ground before replanting it, removing any weeds and digging in some compost or well-rotted manure to give the soil a boost.
Tradition has it that leeks are planted in the land recently vacated by first early potatoes which can be harvested any time soon, depending on when you popped the seed potatoes on the ground. Leeks are easily raised from seed which can be sown in a seed bed in March. Germination takes a couple of weeks and the tiny plants should be left to grow until they are 15cm (6in) or so long and ideally about the thickness of a pencil before they are ready for planting, but I have had success with very thin leeks – probably best left to grown on and gain a bit of size.
Planting leeks involves four activities. Firstly, loosen the soil in which the leeks are going to be planted with a digging fork; then use a dibber (a length of broom handle is perfect) to make 15cm deep holes, spaced 15cm between each plant (enough for the blade of a hoe to pass through when the time comes to weed) and 30cm between rows. A helpful tip here is avoid planting leeks when the soil is dry or you will find the sides of the holes will crumble inwards in a most frustrating way. If necessary, give the area to be planted a good watering the evening before.
Secondly, take each leek seedling and trim its straggly white roots with a pair of kitchen scissors which will not only help when it comes to popping the wispy seedlings in the ground, but also encourages vigorous growth of the baby leeks in their new location. At this stage, some gardeners also trim the tops of the leeklings which is supposed to help new leaves develop from the base of each plant.
The third step is to plant each leek in its new home. If the holes you have made are the right dimension, the roots of each leek should sit on the bottom of the hole with the tip of the plant appearing just above the rim of the hole. Finally, water the plants thoroughly to ‘puddle them in’ – the holes filling with water which creates a muddy slurry around the roots. At this point, the tiny plants look very vulnerable – but don’t worry as they are tough little things and put on growth surprisingly fast.
Aftercare of leeks
If you wish, cover your rows of plants with horticultural fleece to deter leek moth which lays its eggs in the foliage, the resulting caterpillars causing damage to the plants which wither and may die. I’ve found that watering well in during a long spell of dry weather helps to deter leek moth. Leeks are also prone to Rust, a fungal disease which appears as unsightly yellow-orange spots on the foliage. As for all veg plants, keep your developing crop of leeks free from weeds by regular hoeing and weeding. If left to grow unchecked, weeds will crowd in and stunt the leeks’ growth.
Depending on the variety, leeks will be ready to harvest from early-Autumn onwards and are a dependable crop right through the winter months. My favourite varieties are Musselburgh: lovely thick stems and great flavour. Jolant: has a mild flavour, crops early and can be lifted when still quite small and cooked as mini veg.