The leek has been prized by gourmets for thousands of years. The Roman emperor Nero believed leeks would improve his singing!
Related to garlic and onions, the flavour of the leek is milder and more subtle. Its flavour gently permeates other food without overpowering the flavours. The structure of the plant contains soft fibre and can be used to add body to other foods. Leeks can be cooked whole as a hot vegetable on its own, or chopped and used in salads, soups and a multitude of other dishes.
Leeks are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, absolutely reliable and trouble-free. They need good rich soil to grow well and produce succulent stems and leaves. The ideal place to grow them is in ground that grew potatoes last year - rich and fertile, and nicely loosened by the questing roots of the potato plants.
But it is not even necessary to have a vegetable garden to grow leeks; there is no reason why they could not be grown in a small group among flowers in a flower border, where their strikingly pointed leaves would have a textural quality, and their sea-green colour would be a nice complement to orange, blue or yellow flowers. But take care to choose neighbouring plants that do not grow too tall, because the leek plants need sunshine.
Like the other onion family members, leeks have medicinal value. Eating half a raw leek a day is reputed to ward off blood clotting, and help to fight asthma, chronic bronchitis, hay fever and diabetes.
Checklist for Growing: LEEKS
Varieties: ‘Musselburgh' (old, hardy); ‘Carlton' (new, good stems); ‘Firena' (excellent flavour). One packet will easily give 30 or 40 plants.
Sowing: Sow the seeds in March or April in the open ground or in pots of compost.
Transplanting: Lift the young plants when the are about 20 cm tall and transplant to final positions in June, about 20 cm apart. Inserting the plants to about half their length in the soil to encourage white stems. They can be earthed up later if long white stems are required.
Watering: Watering immediately after planting and occasionally in dry weather.
Weeding: Keep reasonably free of weeds.
Harvesting: Pull the plants as required from October to the following March or April, when they will still be in good condition.