Grower's Guide: Growing and preserving leeks

Nutritional Information from Calorie Gallery.
It's amazing how underused the leek is, in spite of its similarity to the onion in cooking, its ease of growing, its flavor and smell and nutritional value.

We grew a huge crop of leeks over the summer, and have been enjoying their bounty well into November. I wanted to harvest what was left in the raised beds, and experiment with leaving the rest of the main garden's leek crop out under a hay cover so we can continue accessing the plants fresh into December and, possibly, even January.
Leeks from our raised beds. Photo/Nicole Caldwell
Below is some basic information on leeks, as well as preservation tips so you can enjoy these delicious plants year-round. Those of you who have never tried growing this vegetable before, don't be intimidated! We found leeks to be easier to grow that even string beans. And how many plants can you go outside to pluck even under a cover of snow?

Nutritional Information from Calorie Gallery.
Leeks are a biennial member of the allium family, which includes onions, garlic, shallots, and chives. There are several leek varieties, including American flag, King Richard and jolant. All leeks can be stored in a similar manner. The white shank has a mild, almost sweet, onion flavor; the green tops are stronger tasting. Click here for great information on growing leeks in your garden; and read on for storing methods. 

Leave them in the ground
Surround your leeks with straw, peat moss, grass clippings, and compost. Except for the most severe conditions, your leeks will survive all winter. If you're going to pick them in the winter (and not wait until spring), be sure you pull them from the ground on days when they don't have frost on them. If you leave them all winter, the leeks will come back to life in March. 

Store them in peat
Pull the leek plants, trim the leaves, wash off the roots, and put the plants in a big tub of damp peat or potting soil. You will have to add water every so often to keep everything moist. 

Bury them in the sand
You can put leeks in a bucket of wet sand and they will keep for two to three months. 

Blanch them
Wash the leeks to remove all visible dirt. Place the leeks onto the cutting board and slice off the roots from the ends. Slice off the top part of the leaves also. Slice the leeks into ยฝ-inch-long chunks. Fill a pot with water and set it on the burner. Set the burner to high and bring the water to a boil. Add the sliced leeks to the boiling water and leave them in the water for three minutes. Remove the leeks with a slotted spoon and place them directly into the ice water. Leave the leeks in the ice water for five minutes, then transfer them to the other bowl. Allow the leeks to cool to room temperature. Put the leeks into freezer bags, close the bags so only one inch is still open. Squeeze the bags to remove as much air as you can, finish closing the bags, and put your leeks in the freezer for up to one year. 

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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicoleโ€™s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Readerโ€™s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.