607 Allium ampeloprasum Porrum GroupCommon Names: leeks Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis Family)
The leek is a biennial, onion-like plant that is grown as a long season annual for its long, thick, cylindrical stalk, composed of overlapping leaf bases. Leeks don't form bulbs in the manner of many alliums. The leaves are flat, yellow-green or blue-green and up to 3 ft (0.9 m) long. They are arranged fan-like and typically bend down under their own weight about midway up. If left into their second summer, leeks produce showy spherical clusters, 3-4 (7.6-10 cm) in diameter, of purple, pink or white flowers on cylindrical stalks up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall. Leeks are milder than most onions, and have a distinctive flavor.
There are more than 2 dozen varieties of leeks available from vegetable seed suppliers. 'Musselburgh' (130 days), with thick, short stems, is very cold tolerant and an all time favorite on both sides of the Atlantic. 'Large American Flag' and 'Alaska' (both 125 days) are among the most cold tolerant. 'Titan' matures in only 80 days but is not very cold tolerant. Several French varieties are smaller, with delicate, mild flavors suitable for eating raw.
A favorite garden vegetable in England and northern Europe, leeks (Allium ampeloprasum, Porrum Group) were developed from plants that grow wild in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The wild form grows in pine forests and sandy woods as far north as Germany.
CultureLeeks are not very demanding. They will grow in almost any soil as long as it is not soggy. They do appreciate a thorough mixing of compost in the soil, and plenty of nitrogen. The best leeks are produced by transplanting young plants into trenches so that the soil can be mounded up in order to blanch the stems. Leeks take 80-150 days from seed to harvest. Light: Full sun is best, but leeks will grow in partial shade. Moisture: Average garden moisture. Leeks can withstand drought by going dormant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 11. Leeks can withstand freezing temperatures and can be overwintered in the ground, beneath the snow. If you mulch heavily before the ground freezes, you'll be able to dig your leeks through the winter. In north Florida, we plant leeks in fall, transplant in early spring, and harvest through the following summer, fall and winter. We leave some for flowers the following spring. Propagation: By seed. Plant leek seeds as you would any other garden vegetable: in a row, a half inch or so apart and a quarter inch deep. When they get 8-12 in (20-30.5 cm) tall, dig them up and transplant them into a trench, a foot or more deep. As the leeks grow, fill in the trench, carefully mounding the soil up around the individual plants, but be careful not to let the dirt get in between the leaves, or you'll have leeks with true grit!
Leeks are important in French cuisine, especially in vichyssoise. Leeks can be eaten raw, sliced in salads, or cooked in leek and potato soup (recipe below). They are excellent braised with carrots and celery or sautéed in butter. Serve steamed leeks au gratin or with a crème sauce.
To remove grit, slit the leeks lengthwise and wash under cold water. Leek flowers are bold and striking in the garden and dominating in arrangements whether fresh or dried.
Some authorities place the onions, garlics, leeks and their relatives in a family of their own, the Alliaceae, and others put them in the lily family, the Liliaceae. There are about 400 species in the genus Allium, including many grown for ornamental as well as culinary and herbal uses. The species, Allium ampeloprasum, is divided into three horticultural groups: The Porrum Group includes the leeks, grown for their stems; the Ampeloprasum Group includes elephant garlic and levant garlic, grown for their large, mild garlic-like bulbs; and the Kurrat Group includes kurrat, a small plant grown for its leaves and rarely seen outside Egypt and the Middle East. Chinese leeks, or garlic chives, is A. tuberosum.
Steve Christman 12/27/99>; updated 9/13/03, 2/2/08