Vichyssoise and Beyond
In part one of this piece I covered
the leek basics, at least well enough to get started on growing
some in your garden. Now on to companions and cycles for growing
a year-round supply of these divine creatures.
I already mentioned sowing leek seed into lima bean beds
during summer where they germinate and grow in the shaded
moist mico-climate until first frost. This works in beds of
bush limas and I suspect would work just as well with other
bush beans. The other half of that growing strategy is to
plant lima bean seeds in spring directly into the leek bed.
By late spring or early summer my leek bed is snaggle-toothed
by random harvesting. (Note: I use a “no-dig”
gardening method which allows for these non-traditional planting
strategies that will not work if you spade, rototill or row
plant your garden.) By July I have a dense bed of lima beans
with scattered blooming leeks – no drain on bean production
since by then I am only growing leek seed for next year and
the beans don’t seem to mind a bit.
So where do I get my summer leeks? In fall plant a narrow
bed of bush peas, or a short fava bean like Sweet Loraine,
with space on the east and west and south sides for one or
two rows of leek transplants. To make this work they do need
to be transplants. Forget about the leeks and enjoy the peas
or fava beans through winter. As the legumes complete their
cycle and slow down, you should cut them back just below the
surface (leave those roots alone!) and sow lettuce seed into
the bed. By now you can begin eating the smaller leeks and
harvesting young lettuce for salads. When the lettuce gets
bitter cut it off just below the surface (leave those roots
alone) and plant bush bean seeds and enjoy your summer leeks
– make sure to harvest what you want before they bolt.
By now you may have noticed that all you are doing is planting
and harvesting neither of which requires a lot of time or
labor. But what about adding mulch and fertilizer and all
that stuff? The legumes have been fixing nitrogen and adding
organic matter to the soil – how much of any plant lives
below the surface? Leaving the roots alone lets them rot in
place – where they belong and the above ground part
of the plant becomes mulch that is slowly integrated into
the soil. When you harvest the leeks, trim the roots and tops
while in the garden and use that for mulch also. Well I digress
– on to the vichyssoise!
A Leek Eater’s Tips
There must be more than vichyssoise, since leeks fed the
pyramid builders while natives were digging potatoes on an
undiscovered continent and French cuisine was being charred
on a stick around the campfire. One of my favorite ways to
eat them is hot off the grill – take kindergarten pencil
size leeks, trim off the roots and the very tops. Spray them
with olive oil and barbeque. The outer leaf layer will char
and slip off leaving a delicious fresh cooked leek.
Chop leeks finely and sauté lightly in olive oil before
scrambling eggs seasoned with fresh tarragon. When cooking
rice, steam whole young leeks on top the last 10 minutes and
serve as a companion to herb seasoned rice. Chop leeks of
any age and add along with fresh herbs during the last half
hour cooking cycle for dried beans. Chop them coarsely and
add along with fresh chopped basil when cooking potatoes.
Mash and cream the potatoes to taste. Chop young leeks and
add them raw to salads and soups. And what about those long
green tops? Chop them and add to soups and stews or make your
own vegetable stock. There’s nothing sophisticated there
– just plain good eats, direct from garden to table!
Beyond the Ordinary
Most American based seed catalogs offer one to a few varieties
of leek seeds. Some will distinguish between winter and summer
types, but most don’t. If you want a picture of how
Europe treats leeks take a look at the catalog for Graines
Baumaux French Seed Company (rudimentary French language
skills required for navigation). They list 25 varieties including
some you will not find anywhere else.
Bulbing leeks? Yes, they are related to garlic, but still
able to reproduce by seed (garlic only reproduce vegetatively
by bulbs and bulbuls). The common one is Elephant Garlic -
actually a leek that forms bulbs and is propagated by bulblets
like true garlic.
The Portuguese onion is another bulbing leek, also known
as Perlzwiebel. The head divides into small, round bulblets
resembling pearl onions that range from pearl size to an inch
in length. There is one listing in the Seed Savers 2005 Yearbook
and one listing at Graines Baumaux French Seed Company.
The Los Mol wild leek is perhaps the least know of the bulbing
leeks. It was once widely cultivated in church gardens and
is now naturalized throughout Europe (primarily in Spain and
the United Kingdom). Some of the naturalized European stands
now are being harvested for commercial purposes because of
the interest among gardeners. Each bulb divides into four
bulbs that sometimes have hard bulblets attached, like elephant
garlic. Either the full bulb or the bulblets can be used for
propagation. There is one listing in the Seed Savers 2005
And finally there is the North American wild leek (Allium
tricoccum), also known as ramps. Although not a bulbing leek
it is a wild gourmet plant that can be cultivated in the home
garden. Ramps are found from North Carolina to Canada and
are collected in the spring starting in the south and moving
north. For more information consult Wikipedia,
Why not give leeks a try? You can grow them in your salad
patch or flower bed, or in borders or even in dedicated beds.
In our climate and soils they are a nearly disease free, fool
proof, year round veggie for your table or herb in your pot.
till next time,
Master Gardener Intern
garden well - eat local