The whole system of raising this little welsh favourite is against most widely held horticultural practice. From sowing indoors, then planting out before being replanted, to the idea of dropping into a hole and NOT back filling, it all feels against the grain to a new gardener. Despite this, it works as it has for centuries. Leeks are grown from tiny black seeds like most onion family members. Sown in a slightly light soil and in bunches, they are best started indoors then transferred to the great outdoors to harden before heeling in. They are planted out by a method rarely used for any other vegetable.
You finally find a use for that broken spade/fork handle you’ve kept at the back of the shed and, by rounding off the broken shaft, make a dibber. Utilising your new tool, after lightly treading the soil surface to consolidate it, make a straight hole approximately eight to ten inches deep. (Metric holes are available through other blogs). Drop your neatly trimmed seedling, pencil thick, into said prepared orifice. Now, this is where something important happens: we don’t fill with soil and firm as we would normally when planting or transplanting something. What happens is , we water directly into the hole, allowing the water to draw the loose soil in.
This allows the soil to surround the stem, blanching the green leaves to a white barrel. No other plant is treated like this. Celery is frequently blanched but usually with a covering collar and a bank of soil above ground level. Witloof chicory is blanched to make it edible but, again, by exclusion of light above ground.
Now, why the trimming? When the seedlings are transplanted, they suffer a major shock and can lose a lot of water through transpiration, that’s sweating through the leaves in layman’s terms. The roots are trimmed because, apart from stopping the excessive new growth when transplanted , they fit into the hole without dragging soil down as you drop them in. As pointed out earlier, Celery is also blanched and I have been trying out an old method for my crop this month.The old gardeners used a tall collar of corrugated cardboard to wrap around the bunched stems and to protect against the soil rotting the centre. Whilst a great method of blanching, this method is not without it’s problems, mainly that it provides slugs and snails with a sheltered feast, so I have had to use organic pellets to deter them from my precious crop. Around the collared stems I have drawn up banks of soil, to hold the Celery firmly upright and to back up the light exclusion. I also imagine there is an element of benefit from the additional heat of the surrounding soil. The leeks utilise the food left in the soil from the potato crop, which itself is a root crop. Now although thought of as a root, the leek is in fact a stem comprising of bundled leaf sheaths, therefore utilising foods that the potato leaves would not have maximised. This is one of the main advantages of crop rotation: using crops that don’t share a common food requirement. An alternative crop to follow potatoes is sometimes one of the Legume family, peas or beans. They require flower and fruit feed so again, don’t suffer from the lack of root food that the potato has caused. The mass of humus and compost that was heaped upon the potato during it’s planting and growth has been broken down during the growing season by bacteria and earthworms and still, to some extend ,remains available to follow on crops. Any plant that is transplanted here or is grown from a reasonably large seed, such as peas or beans, will do better than fine seeds as the soil structure is still quite rough and not ready to be broken down to a seed bed.
Root crops such as carrots or parsnips, the tap roots, would be a disaster here, as the soil is still quite rich in nutrients and there for would encourage split roots, or forking as it is known. Fruit could be planted to follow but timing is the problem and there are some questions over disease complications.
On the subject of fruit, I am finding this year to be a bumper time for soft fruits. My strawberries have been long fruiting and very plump with it, giving good sized fruits in abundance over a three week period from three year old plants. My Tayberries(a blackberry/raspberry hybrid) have fruited well in only their second year on site and the massive Black Butte Blackberry is on course to produce many a crumble over the next few days since I decided to weave the stems horizontally across and old bed frame, encouraging bud production. That’s this blogs top tip: To produce more fruiting buds on any fruit bush or tree, bend or tie the new stem over to as near an arch as safely possible. The sap will grow upwards and search for an outlet, finding no leading stem means it will force the plant to produce buds, which because of the location along the stem, will generally become fruit buds. Victorian fruit cages generally had at least one plum espalier with tips tied down to ground pegs for just this purpose.