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Leeks most likely originated in the Mediterranean region, where they have been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Jewish tradition has included this member of the onion family since their nation’s historic sojourn in Egypt. Greek and Roman cultures also record medicinal uses for the leek, and Nero himself ate vast quantities of it with the belief that it would benefit his voice quality. Leeks were later brought to the British Isles by Phonecian traders, where they came to be the national symbol of Wales. This vegetable is not as well known as its close relative, the onion, but chefs and gardeners alike appreciate the leek for its sweeter, more subtle flavor.
Sowing: Start leeks indoors 2-3 months before the last frost of spring, sowing them 1/4″ deep in a flat. Keep the temperature 60-70 degrees F. When they reach a height of 2″, transplant the seedlings to separate pots. Transplant them to the garden in rich soil and full sun, about a week after the last spring frost; the plants will be 6-12″ tall. Dig holes 1-2′ apart and deep enough so that the plant only emerges several inches from the soil; water the seedlings and fill the hole with loose dirt. For companion planting benefits, plant leeks with celery, onions, or carrots.
Growing: As leeks mature, most gardeners blanch the stalks them by mounding up dirt or mulch around them. This technique gives the leeks improved flavor and also allows them to grow well past the first frosts of fall. Keep the soil evenly moist and apply compost or organic matter once a month, since leeks thrive in very rich soil.
Harvesting: Harvest the leeks as soon as they reach a desirable size for eating. They will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. If mulched well, leeks will produce well into the winter.
Seed Saving: Leeks need to overwinter before producing seed. In warmer locations, simply apply a thick layer of mulch and remove it in the early spring. In areas with very cold winters, dig up the plants and cut off half the stem; store them at 32-40 degrees F in 80-90 percent humidity until spring, when they can be replanted. Allow the plants to flower and go to seed. Remove the seed heads when the visible seeds turn black. Spread the heads out in a dry place with good ventilation, and let them dry for several weeks. Thresh out the seeds and store them in a cool, dry place for up to 2 years.
Latin Name: Allium porrum
Type: Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Cool Season|Warm Season
USDA Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Seeds per Ounce: 20,000
Planting Method: From Transplant
Sunlight: Full Sun
Height: 16 Inches
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