Leek harvest

Leeks (Allium porrum).

Leek harvest.

Leeks were harvested on July 21 and 22. Above are photos taken of the 2 leek raised beds on July 14. On left is the larger bed at the sunny end of the vegetable garden. On right is the smaller bed at the shady end. A bloom can be seen in the photo at left if you look closely. The leeks at the sunny end tended to be larger, so sun may have been one factor, although of course soil quality and amount of irrigation water might also be determining factors.

It’s a good thing to plant the same vegetable in various places in the gardens. It makes a gardener think about why plants in one area do better and perhaps provides an alert into something wrong in other areas..

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Last year, I didn’t harvest leeks until August, and that was a mistake because too many of the leeks developed a hard stalk in the middle and were useless as food. Only good for compost. This year, the first leek plant to develop a bloom did so on July 13. At least that’s when the photo above was taken. 2 leek plants on the sunny end sent up blooms. 1 plant on the shady end did as well. When I harvested the leeks, approximately 1 week later, I found 3 leeks with hard inner cores, or stalks, that were no longer good for eating. They weren’t the largest leeks, so I don’t know what triggers the bloom in leeks. This is what I’ve learned. When the first leek bloom appears, it’s time to harvest leeks.

I read with envy descriptions of pulling leeks in the fall or even winter. In Serving Up the Harvest, Andrea Chesman writes that with a heavy layer of mulch to keep the ground from freezing, leeks can be harvested through the winter.

Here is the secret to later leek harvests. Different varieties of leeks have different maturity dates. Thus far, I’ve grown King Richard plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. King Richard leeks have a summer harvest window. Last fall, some seeds of fall and winter varieties were planted in a cold frame, but they didn’t survive, probably because I didn’t take care of them in terms of watering, weeding, or irrigating. What can I expect from neglect. Nothing. Anyway, leek seeds should be started in the spring, according to Johnny’s catalog.

If I get a better grow light setup inside this winter, I can start fall and winter varieties indoors in February, repot them once inside as they grow, and transplant them out in late spring for fall and even winter harvests. All varieties of leeks can also be direct seeded in the garden in early spring and thinned. All this also from Johnny’s catalog.

Just to be safe, I should probably still order the King Richard plants for one more season. That way, if all these experiments with seeds fail, I’ll still have some leeks to use and freeze.

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Back to this year’s harvest. Eliot Coleman’s dibble method for planting worked well for me. Please see my posts Leeks and Planting Leeks for detailed information on this leek technique. This year’s leeks are remarkably long and fat, as can be seen in the photo above. Well, some of them are fat. They are all long at least. This photo was taken before the leeks were washed. Because I dug them carefully and trimmed the roots and leaves at my outdoor work table near the compost pile, the leeks came into the kitchen really clean and dirt free.

Most descriptions of leek preparation discuss techniques for getting out the dirt lodged in the upper leaves, which is indeed a problem with store-bought leeks. This dirt doesn’t accumulate in the garden. It is a product of harvest techniques, so far as I can figure out. In my estimation, keeping them clean by taking extra time and care in digging them is far easier and more enjoyable than the tedious methods of getting the dirt out in the kitchen.

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After a quick wash, as seen  above, the leeks were prepared for freezing. Leeks can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or 2. However, since they freeze so well, it seems easier just to freeze them right away.

I cut them into little half- or quarter-circles, as can be seen in the photos above, so that they will be ready to use for sautéing or in soups. A vegetable knife works well for cutting an entire leek in halves and quarters lengthwise, but a serrated-edged knife is much better for cutting crosswise to produce the final little half- or quarter- circles. The leeks of smaller diameter can be left as half-circles. The fat leeks are better quartered to form quarter-circles. This doesn’t take much time at all, and the leeks are prepped for use throughout the winter. If I ever find a need for whole leeks, I will think about ways to keep some of them whole.

Pop them into Mason jars, my freezing containers of choice, set the lids loosely so the jars won’t break while they are freezing, and put them into my pantry, uh, my upright freezer. I know that vacuum-sealed packaging systems are all the rage at present, but for now, I like my method of freezing. Works for me. Goes along with my nostalgia for a pantry full of canned foods.

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So, 8 pint jars of fully prepped leeks in a couple hours of work. 6 from the sunny end bed, and 2 from the shady end bed. The shady end bed had fewer leeks, so that’s the main reason for the difference in quantity. However, the sunny end leeks were longer and fatter, for the most part.

I’m hoping for more leeks next year with an extended season. I would like to have leeks in the garden through the fall and maybe even into the winter for a fresh leek option in addition to the handy frozen leeks in the freezer. Always something to plan and do better in the garden.

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