The leek is a valuable vegetable for winter and spring use and is often grown to re-place onions when the last of the stored crop has been eaten. Sow the seeds out-doors in late March or early April on a prepared bed. A seed bed prepared for cabbage and lettuce sowings is suitable. Prevent annual weeds from smothering the grass-like seedlings, and water, should May be a dry month. The seedlings are dug up and moved to their growing positions in June or July. June planting is preferable.
Leeks make heavy demands on the land. Farmyard or stable manure or good vegetable compost should be dug in during autumn or winter at the rate of 1 cwt. to 10 sq. yd. Just prior to planting out, a dressing should be given of a mixture of 3 parts of superphosphate, I part of sulphate of ammonia, and 1 part of sulphate of potash, used at the rate of 2 oz. per square yard. Seed is sown thinly in drills in. deep and 9 in. apart between the middle and end of March. For an early crop and exhibition, seed is sown in a warm greenhouse in January or February.
Planting is done with a stout, steel-shod dibber. With this, holes are prepared 9 in. deep and 9 in. apart in rows 18 in. apart, and one plant dropped well down into each. Do not make any attempt to refill the holes with soil, but simply water the plants in thoroughly. This deep planting will blanch the stems without need for much further earthing up. For exhibition, leeks are planted with a trowel in shallow trenches prepared as advised for celery, and the soil is gradually drawn around the stems as they lengthen. This method results in very large, welltblanched stems. Nitrate of soda, Nitro-chalk, or sulphate of ammonia may be used at 1 oz. to 10 ft. of row, or soot at 1 oz. to 4 ft. when plants are well established. Lifting and storing are unnecessary. Leeks are quite hardy and may be left in the ground all the winter, being lifted as the occasion arises when required for use. Varieties of merit are Musselburgh and The Lyon. Principal foes are as for onions.
For leeks of good size, a well-manured or well-composted soil is necessary. Mark the rows with the garden line at 18 inches apart. The usual planting tool is a blunt-nosed dibber, such as may be made from an old spade handle. Make the planting holes 9 inches apart in the rows and sufficiently deep so that only the tops of the plants show above the soil when one plant is dropped into each hole. After planting, simply fill the holes with water. This washes sufficient soil down on to the roots; more loose soil fills the holes when the rows are hoed a week or two later. Following planting, inspect the bed for a day or two and replant any plants which may have been pulled out of the holes by birds. Mulching with sedge peat or, on rich soils, with weathered sawdust, in late July, saves all further cultivation.
Leeks are left in the soil throughout the winter in the same way as parsnips. Should the ground be needed for another crop in February or March, any leeks still in the soil may be lifted and heeled into a trench. All leeks should be used before May.
The leek is a favourite vegetable among exhibitors and for this purpose, seeds a sown in gentle heat in the greenhouse during January or February. The seedlings are pricked off into fairly deep trays and each seedling is allowed 11 square inches of space. The seedlings are hardened off gradually in the cold frame for planting out in early May. Some keen showmen prefer to prick the seedlings into small clay pots and to pot on into the 5- inch or 6-inch sizes.
To obtain leeks blanched to a length of 2 feet or more, the plants are grown in trenches prepared similarly to those in which single rows of celery are grown. The preparation of the trenches calls for deep digging and the addition of well-rotted manure or alternatives such as garden compost or spent mushroom compost. The trenches are spaced 3 feet apart with 12 inches between the plants. Soil from between the rows is drawn up towards the plants as they grow to form a steep ridge. Liquid manure feeds are given as well as frequent top-dressings.
`Musselburgh’ and ‘The Lion’ are good standard varieties. The pot leek is a northern speciality.
A lot of people often ask me what scallions are. These are salad onions more usually grown by sowing a cultivar such as ‘White Lisbon’ quite thickly. No thinning of the seedlings is carried out. The plants are pulled for use when of edible size. In Ireland the term is more particularly applied to the green foliage of young onion plants. The finely-cut leaves may be mixed with mashed potato, soft cheese or added to a cheese sandwich, replacing chives. The term scallion also covers any onion which does not form a bulb. The shallot, Alhum ascalonicum, is also a scallion.
Shallots are another member of the onion family. I can’t imagine cooking with-out a good supply of shallots to bring their own special flavour to certain dishes.
Some people prefer the milder flavour of the shallot, Allium ascalonicum, which they grow in place of onions. Generally, however, shallots are grown for pickling. When stocks of non-bolting onion sets were not available, many gardeners found shallot growing far easier than onion growing. The soil in which they are to be grown must be well-drained and, unless very large bulbs are required, without manure or fertilisers. A very poor soil is greatly improved by being mulched with garden compost just prior to planting time.
Traditionally, shallots were planted on the shortest day in December and lifted on the longest day in June. The soil is seldom suitable for planting during the winter, and planting between late February and early April produces good results. Simply press the bulbs into the ground at intervals of 8 inches in the row, and allow 12 inches between rows. Birds, earthworms and severe frost may loosen the bulbs so, about a week after planting, inspect the bed and replant or replace where necessary. If birds continue to pull out the bulbs, the bed should be netted.
Unless the plants are to be fed with liquid manure for the production of very large shallots, little is needed in the way of cultivation. Weeds may be removed by hand or hoeing. Alternatively, use sedge peat as a mulch around the plants in late April.
In early June, draw a little of the mulch or surrounding soil away from the bulb clusters to allow more sunlight to reach them. The foliage will yellow in July, when the clusters should be lifted with the garden fork and spread out to dry. In fine, sunny weather dry them in the open; in wet weather under cover. The green-house staging, the cold frame or under cloches are suitable places.
When quite dry, split the clusters into separate bulbs and store them in a cool, airy place for use when required. The bulbs are best stored in Dutch trays or in vegetable nets. Do not store in sacks or polythene bags. Some of the medium- sized bulbs may be set aside for planting in the following season. There are both yellow and red shallots. These include ‘Giant Long Keeping’, yellow; and ‘Giant Long Keeping’, red; and ‘Giant Red’. Ilative de Niort’ and ‘The Aristocrat’ are favoured by exhibitors.