Leeks may not get the same love as green onions or traditional onions, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t! This mild and sweet onion subtype is perfect for many dishes and is exceptionally easy to grow, even in colder climates.
Read on to learn about this type of allium, including how to grow it, how to enjoy it, and so much more.
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Characteristics of Leeks
Leeks are a vegetable of the allium family–the same below ground growers as shallots, onions, and garlic. In fact, leeks are sometimes called “pearl onions”, as they are most noticeably related to these infamous and flavorful veggies.
Unlike green onions, however, which are typically eaten from top to bottom, only the light green and white portions of the leek are to be eaten. But that doesn’t stop this from being a nutritious and delicious vegetable! They have been used in folk remedies, modern medicine, and culinary dishes dating from thousands of years ago all the way to modern cuisine.
They are well known and loved for their cold tolerance. They are an easy early start veggie because they can withstand light frosts even at an early age. Meanwhile, mature plants can withstand even a deep, heavy frost, so they make for an ideal late-season veggie as well.
Leeks have a slightly sweet, mild flavor which is often compared to a “toned down” version of other popular allium family members. They are identified by their broad stalks which transition from the white base to a light green and finally to a deep, rich emerald along the top portion of the stalks.
Fast Facts About Leeks
Cooking With and Eating Them
Like many allium types, leeks can be eaten and enjoyed in a number of different ways. This is a thrilling fact considering how absolutely chock full of nutrients leeks are! What a joy to know that folks of all different tastes can benefit from the nutritional properties of this plant.
Once the root of the leek is removed from the bottom and the tough leaves are trimmed from the top, the rest can be washed and then used in a variety of ways! Leeks are fantastic sauteed, braised, steamed, pureed, and poached.
They make a fantastic component in soups, such as potato and leek soup. You can make roasted leeks with parmesan or enjoy them in a French leek pie. Use them to add flavor to an egg dish or sautee them as a base for a dish where you would often use onions or garlic instead.
If you find the texture or potency of fresh leeks unappealing, there is another way to enjoy all of the health benefits without upsetting your palate! Leek powder is a convenient way to fit leeks into your diet without worrying about prep or waste.
Leek powder is particularly delicious added to potato dishes, soups, sprinkled on a frittata, or even used in a seasoning for meat! Grilled steak dipped in coconut aminos and leek powder is an unexpectedly tantalizing dish you just have to try.
So, what’s all the hooplah about the health benefits of leeks? Well, these veggies pack a real punch of nutrients. Some of these include vitamins A, E, B, and C. These help with eyesight, energy, metabolism, the processing of other nutrients in the body, and, of course, the health of your immune system!
In addition to these vital vitamins, they are rich as well as nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and sulfur. They are also high in ascorbic acid and niacin, thiamine, carotene, and riboflavin.
All of these elements and more are why they have been considered a great health tool and are recommended in folk medicine and modern medicine to address many health maladies. They have been shown to help with good digestion, an increase in appetite, and healthy liver activity.
Leeks also have amazing properties that aid in respiratory conditions, remedy certain diseases, cleanse blood, and accelerate metabolism. They can help you fight off a cold or fight fatigue, depression, and balance out certain vitamin deficiencies. And they have even been shown in studies to help lessen the growth of tumors!
All told, you can’t go wrong finding a way to add leeks to your diet. Your body will thank you for it!
Growing Leeks at Home
Planting Your Leeks
Leeks are a relatively easy veggie to grow! They require exposure to full sunlight and soil that is rich, moist, and well-draining. Composted soil with a pH balance that is slightly acidic to neutral is best. Because they root shallowly, they should not be planted near beans, strawberries, or asparagus, as this will interfere with all the plants’ growth trajectory.
You can plant your leeks after the final threat of spring frost has passed in your area. However, if frost should spring up suddenly again, don’t fret! They are quite cold tolerant and should be okay with an occasional incidental frost.
You have the option of starting leeks from seed in your garden, or beginning seedlings indoors 10 to 12 weeks ahead of time to get a jump on the growing season. It all depends how long you want your leeks to produce…and how many of them you want to grow!
Leek seeds should be planted about a quarter inch deep, with six to eight inches between plants and a foot between rows. If you are planting leek seedlings, you can plant them at the same depth and mound the soil up to the first green leaf on the stem.
Water thoroughly after planting in order to help your leek seedlings or seeds to become established.
Caring and Maintaining
Due to their shallow roots, your leeks will need frequent watering…about an inch of water per week. This can often be accomplished with one deep watering per week, but you may need to increase the amount and frequency during times of drought or particularly hot weather. You can also mulch around them to keep them moist.
Laying down additional compost–particularly compost manure–about halfway through the growing season will help keep your plants happy and healthy. They aren’t heavy feeders, but they do enjoy that mid-season boost!
Leeks will often thrive through the fall and even into early winter. You can help increase the length of your harvest with mulching in the fall and early winter months.
You will know your plants are ready for harvest when the width of the stem passes an inch in diameter and the feel of it is firm. At this point, you can gently twist and pull the leeks from the soil, or dig them out with a garden trowel. Then, wash the leaves and store the leeks, if not using them immediately.
Leeks store well, surviving in the fridge for up to a week, a root cellar for several months, or blanched and frozen for up to a year. You can also powder them and make your own leek powder, which will often last for years if stored properly.
Where to Buy Leek Seeds
Leeks are a very popular vegetable and the seeds and seedlings can often be found at lawn and garden centers and nurseries nationwide. You can also source leeks online from reputable sources such as Hoss Tools.
Wrapping Up Leeks
Excited to grow leeks in your garden this year? Why not pair it with some other delicious alliums? Visit our Onions page for other ideas on delicious varieties to grow in your garden!