National Leek Championships of Great Britain
14th Sep 2000
Considering how much energy and time that I put into the Chelsea display whilst at the same time trying my best to remember the various sowing dates for the Summer shows, I have been very happy with my results this year. My highlight undoubtedly was winning the National Leek Championship of Great Britain at the Welsh Branch Championships which were recently held at Pembroke. The class was for 3 blanch leeks and I showed my own selection of the Welsh Seedling, though not the largest three that I have grown they were clean and measured nearly 8 inches around and 17 inches to the button.
Solving the Problem of Splitting
I really thought that I had totally cured the leeks from the perennial splitting that I have endured over the past few years, the barrel of the leek normally begin to split with a vengeance from around the middle of July but this year they grew right up to the Welsh Show. However on my return every leek left in the bed had split, and when I say split they had gone a minimum of five flags with some even having eight flags removed from them. It is heartbreaking believe me when you have potential winners pushing 9 inches around that are basically rendered useless for the show bench.
The reason I felt sure that I had solved the splitting was that during the Winter months I had sprayed the internal face of the raised beds (which are built up from concrete blocks) with a proprietary liquid sealant to prevent any moisture from the bed seeping out through the blocks. The thinking behind this was that the leek, as it matures, has an extensive root system that can spread right up to the edge of the blocks. If those blocks dry out the soil along the edges of the bed, then any watering carried out could possibly induce splitting, just as tomatoes would split if they had been kept on the dry side and then given copious amounts of water.
Raised Bed and Polytunnel
In the other garden that I use which belongs to my friend Jim, I have 24 leeks growing on a slightly raised bed which have timber supports around the side slightly lifting the soil by about six inches above the pathway. This year, as in the previous two years, the soil was not dug over at all during the winter months and the whole polytunnel was just left clean right through to Spring time. I grew the twenty four leeks at my home and brought them down to Jims' in two litre pots ready to plant in the bed during the second week of April. Up to that point the bed had not been turned over but I"d asked Jim to thoroughly saturate it to make sure the salt levels or conductivity readings would remain low.
That morning I also took down my Honda lightweight rotovator and after a scattering of pelleted chicken manure, the only source of fertiliser that Jim had, the bed was rotovated down to about nine inches, levelled off and the leeks planted. All this took place within a couple of hours, the bed had no manure at all added to it, indeed it hasn't had any manure or lime in over four years. The remarkable thing though is that the leeks there never split and were just slightly smaller than mine prior to them splitting.
I am now wondering whether it"s worth all the hard work of digging out the raised beds and applying layers of manure when all I get in the end is split specimens. Is it just possible that they prefer to have the soil compacted at just under the small rotovator level?, I shall certainly try it next year as it will definitely save me an awful lot of time. Incidentally my father has a similar system to Jim with a slightly raised bed which has had no manure added this year and yet my sister managed to show on his behalf a pair of leeks over eight inches around and seventeen inches to the button. As my father hasn't been too well of late the quality wasn't quite there as they hadn't had the required attention with slight indentations in the barrel at just under soil level where stones had been protruding.
It goes to show though that we may well be disturbing the soil too much and would be far better leaving the lower spit so to speak, totally undisturbed, I shall certainly be trying it next year.
The flags on the Welsh leek is really different to the older variety or the Peter Clark type as it puckers up or bubbles over when approaching maturity. This can be a problem if left alone as the sun's rays can cause untold damage by burning right through the thin tissue forming the bubbles causing the flags to be damaged and burnt. This year I prevented it from happening by covering the plants with fleece which still allows plenty of light to get at the plants but prevents the intense scorching that happens when the direct rays of the sun hits the flag.
In my case the fleece was merely draped over the flags and hanging down to about a third of the way, sufficient to cover all the tender flag areas. It wasn't ideal by any means as any breeze tended to move it around so next year I shall do like Peter Holden does; attach a few battens above the leeks higher than head level and then staple or use drawing pins to attach the fleece to it. It's certainly worth the trouble as unscorched, pest and disease free leeks are a joy to see on the bench and inevitably will always impress the judges as well.