Up-date on the Shallots + Blanch Leeks
24th Feb 1999
Can you remember the shallots that I had planted during early October last year after a conversation with a fellow exhibitor at the Shepton Mallet Show? Initially they were excellent showing signs of early growth with a strong root system developing below ground. The reason for planting them that early was because the gentleman in question had staged an excellent dish from such an early sowing the previous year and was able to harvest large bulbs much earlier and before they started showing signs of secondary growth which inevitably hastens them along towards being misshapen.
The twenty bulbs that I planted for trial were growing at the side of my furthest polytunnel which is the same spot exactly that I grew them in last year. The constant rain that we have experienced ever since I'm afraid have killed off any chance of some top quality specimens from them. The rain was simply pouring off the polytunnel and the poor bulbs were trying to root in a growing medium that water lilies would have thrived in. I have never seen so much consistent rain, the ground is absolutely saturated everywhere and my father who is now approaching his late seventies told me that he can"t remember such a wet Autumn and Winter, lets hope we'll be compensated with a warm early Spring.
If any of you tried to grow your shallots as early as I did, I would love to hear from you via my column as to how they have coped for you in the wet weather.
I"m afraid that I am going to have to pull mine up and replant with the ones that I had planted in small pots early on in the year. I shall fork up the top 4 to 6 inches of soil and rake in some Chempak BTD at 3 ounces to the square yard. I have sufficient shallots planted for two fairly long rows along the width of the plot; at the moment, they are in the cold frame waiting for the weather to improve my soil structure. They will be planted out nine inches apart and twelve inches between the row.
I have two varieties of blanch leek growing well in their four inch pots, I intend to plant 15 of the Peter Clark variety and 40 of the improved Welsh seedling leek from my own stock in four beds that grew my exhibition onions last year.
They are currently looking the part and now ready for potting on into 6 inch pots using the following mixture : 4 parts of Levington M3, 3 parts of sieved soil taken from the beds that they are going to be growing in and one part Vermiculite. This mixture over the past few years has proved to be ideal for both leeks and onions with the plants really responding well to the added Vermiculite which opnes up the texture and allows plenty of air to get at the roots
Your leeks should be fairly tall by now and in need of some support to prevent the young plants from flopping about. My method at this juncture is to use a split cane together with a plastic plant support clip, one end of the curved clip is hooked to the cane whilst the other is curled around the flags and clipped on the cane at the other end, this means that the flags or foliage are encircled inside the clip. The height at which you position the clip along the cane is important, it should be a few inches above the button in order to, not only support the plant, but also to draw up the button as the foliage encases the heart of the plant thereby making it pull upwards in search of light. If the clips are therefore positioned at the same height above the button, then the plants will correspondingly be of equal length which is a very important factor later on when you come to select specimens for the show bench.
I hardly ever feed my plants at this stage, but if yours are not responding in the way they ought to, then a light spray using a foliar feed such as Maxicrop with added iron or even Phostrogen will prove to be very beneficial.
If you are using artificial lights, now that the plants are really growing away and pulling upwards, do make sure that there is sufficient room between the tip of the plants and the light source. The Philips unit that I use with a 400 watt SON T Aggro lamp can get very hot indeed and scorch the plants, so do lift the light high enough above the foliage to prevent any risk of them being incinerated.