10th May 2001
The blanch leeks that I am growing this year are from bulbils that were given to me by Peter Holden the current World record holder on blanch leeks, and I have to say that they are without a doubt, the best that I have ever seen at this time of year. Indeed my main concern is that they are too big too early and could run out of steam before show time. The variety is the Ivor mace Welsh seedling that has undoubtedly been really well looked after by Peter with the foliage being dark green and showing very little signs of being infected by any virus.
The growth rate on the plants, right from the very beginning has been phenomenal and I actually had to take them away from the growing cabinet as early as the end of February as they were getting so big. Even after that point, when they were left on the open bench with just the normal minimum air temperature of 55°F, they just kept on growing.
On the 11th of March they were potted on into their final pot which was a four litre deep rose pot and the mixture was 2 parts sieved soil from the leek bed, 1 part M3 and 1 part fine Vermiculite with 2 added Chempak scoops of their potting base mixture. This was added as the Vermiculite has no nutrient value whatsoever and seems to have been sufficient to maintain steady growth right thorough to planting out on the 25th April when they were 4.1 inches in circumference and well up through their twelve inch collars.
I had intended to try and keep them longer in the pots prior to planting out and based on an observation made to me by Bob Plant. Bob had heard somewhere that the length of time a plant needs to me in the same soil or compost is about 14 weeks after that time the leeks become tired. There may well be an element of truth in this as very often my leeks, though growing well up to a certain point, all of sudden seem to stop growing and that's when the splitting starts.
However working back 14 weeks from the NVS Championship date of the 26th August the leeks would have to be planted on the 20 May which seems very late to me. If there is any truth in this supposition, then I should have potted mine up again during early April so that they could have made enough of a root ball for planting out at that time. I would welcome any comments growers may have to make on Bobs thinking.
The leeks are now on 15 inch collars and will very soon be getting and eighteen inch one. I shall also keep a close watch on their growth rate as the year that Peter Holden broke the World record his leeks measured 6.6 inches around on the 6th of June. A week prior to planting, the beds were given some Chempak BTD (Base Top dressing), 4 ounces to the square metre and well rotovated in with my lightweight Honda rotovator. Another change to the planting schedule this year means that instead of planting two rows of 8 in a domino fashion along the bed, I have followed Peter style and planted just one row of 9 along the middle.
The plants were planted with the root plate two inches deep in the soil and 14 inches apart. This means that now, for the first time, the leeks will enjoy what is probably the best part of the raised beds, the middle, an area that they have never before grown in. This also means that the soil will be constantly moist in the centre and less chance of the roots getting into dry soil near to the edge of the concrete blockwork. I am convinced that when the roots get into soil that is lacking somewhat in moisture, it most certainly has a bearing on them splitting, particularly when more water is then added. I also believe that when the roots get dry the plant is under stress and this can also be a contributory factor to some leeks having a bulbous base.
Supports for the flags are already in position and are constructed by means of chains suspended from the polytunnel steel tubes and these chains support old plastic drainage rods that are ten foot long and over an inch in diameter. The pipes are lowered down on the chain via some steel hooks until they rest just slightly higher than the natural curvature of the flag itself and an equidistant on either side of the leek. As the leek grows so the chains will be gradually lifted to take the weight of the increased flag growth.
Do make sure however that the point of the exercise is to take the weight of the flags from the barrel of the leek. If you raise the pipes too high, then, even though the flags may well be resting on the pipes, the real weight will still be falling back onto the leek and this can be a contributory factor towards having some leeks bending slightly. Be prepared as well for a hot Summer, if we do have some continuously hot days during July and August the effect of the direct rays of the sun on to the leek flags can be devastating. The constant heat bearing down on the flags can burn through the thin epidermis layer and leave the foliage blistered and burnt resulting in the judge downpointing any such exhibit on condition. This can be easily prevented by having some fleece suspended just above the leeks to diffuse the harmful rays of the sun.