Welsh Seedling Leeks
11th May 2000
My blanch leeks have been planted for nearly a month and are really moving along, particularly now that the days are lengthening and the weather warming up. I must add however that my leeks are grown in a polytunnel and therefore the soil in the raised beds is much warmer than outside.
I have reduced the quantity of leeks slightly this year as I needed one of the beds to grow some early broad beans, peas and lettuce for Chelsea. I have 32 of my own selection of the Welsh seedling and 8 of an old variety of leek that we called locally the Ruthin leek. This particular leek was winning everywhere around this part of the world, even as far as Shrewsbury during the seventies and eighties and the main grower was Mr Roberts from Ruthin, Roberts Machine as he used to be affectionately known. He was undoubtedly the grower of his time. I remember him staging 4 collections of vegetables at the Shrewsbury show. One for twelve kinds, another for nine and another for six as well as the Webbs Master Gardener class which used to be for a collection of 4 kinds of vegetables and two vases of flowers. Every collection had a first prize card, no mean achievement I can assure you at that particular level. His leeks and onions were a sight to see and though not as big as those we see today, they were grown completely without any artificial lights and with minimum heat. His onions were always a tall globe shape and not much bigger than 17 to 18 inches around whilst his leeks would have 18 inches of blanch and measuring around 7 inches in circumference. I really thought that his leek had disappeared until I saw it a couple of years ago staged by Mr D. S Davies of Betws yn Rhos, a good local grower at our National Vegetable Society D.A. show. They were over nine inches in circumference and 18 inches to the button, so I thought I would give it a go this year. One asset it seems to have according to Mr Davies is that it doesn't seem to split easily which has been my problem over the past few seasons.
I have had a lot of growers enquiring about collaring leeks; it seems to be one aspect of growing them that some growers can"t seem to get to grips with. To start with, the purpose of collaring the leek is to blanch it, that being the part that you eat. Traditionally leeks, even for exhibition, were dropped down a hole made with a dibber in a row in the garden and as the leek lengthened in search of daylight, so more soil was earthed up against it. My great gardening hero, Edwin Bekett who staged some phenomenal exhibits during the 1920s and 1930s, also used to earth up his leeks but did open up a trench 2 foot deep and 18 inches wide which he lined with rotten manure first. Interestingly in his book, Vegetables for Home and Exhibition, he stated that when potting up his leeks the soil based mixture 'should be passed through a half inch sieve and to every bushel of soil two 6 inch potfuls of bone meal, which is fine manure for leeks, should be added' - a phenomenal quantity I thought yet he had some amazing results.
The method nowadays is to plant the leek only about two to three inches below the soil surface. This has great advantages as the top layer of soil is the best, more air gets through to the root system and it's a lot easier to get any liquid feed to the roots, should that be necessary. Over the past few years I have stopped collaring the plants in their pots, relying on the plastic plant support clips to do the job for me. My way is to move the clip, still supporting the flags, well up the cane so that you block any light from getting at the central young shoots. This effectively pulls the leek upwards whilst at the same time maintaining a green barrel which to my mind is hardier at this stage. Once planted out and visibly growing away, I start to collar them. I made collars many years ago using builders, damp course material which you can buy in rolls of various widths. I bought the widest at the time which was 18" inches and from this material I cut two flat pieces. One measured 9" by 12" and the other 15" by 18", the first collar is wrapped around the barrel of the leek so that the 9" measurement is vertical, at this time a cane is also positioned close to the leek to which this and subsequent collars are attached. Once the leek is extending out of the first collar, simply remove it and roll it round the leek the other way so that you now have a collar 12" tall. This is then repeated with the other piece of damp course until you achieve a collar of 18". As the leek has already been planted 2 inches or so below soil level you should have a good leek with a length of between 18 and 20" to the button.
When you are collaring leeks it"s very important to make sure that when pulling the leek, through using collars in order to lengthen it, that this is not carried out to the detriment of having a proportional girth. It's all very well having a blanch leek with 24" of blanch but only 5 inches around. It"s better to pull the leek up whilst at the same time paying due regard to its circumference.