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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic Leeks


Leeks are very popular in Wales


Allium porrum

Family: Liliaceae (Group 6)

One of the most useful of the hardy winter vegetables. Leeks do best on an open site, in rich, well worked, light, loamy soils, into which plenty of well rotted manure or compost has been worked. Leeks will not grow on compacted soil. Ideal pH is 6.5-7.5.

Cultivation details for the herb sometimes called Chinese Leek are in the herbs section.

Leeks have a fibrous root system and help to improve soil structure. Belgian studies indicate that including leeks in a rotation may help to reduce the occurrence of clubroot in brassicas.

There are early cultivars ready from about September to November, mid-season cultivars maturing December to February, and late cultivars for harvest from March to early May. Earlier cultivars tend to be longer and thinner, with pale foliage; later ones are thicker with dark green, nearly blue leaves (flags). They are also hardier.

Recommended varieties

Earlies: Walton MammothLarge leeks which will stand throughout Winter until required
King RichardMy favourite. Produces nice thin leeks, which will stay fine until required, right through Winter.
Mid-season: MusselburghVery popular variety bred in Scotland. Hardy, with a good flavour.
SnowstarA modern variety, similar to Musselburgh.
Lates: Winter CropThe hardiest variety, suitable for very exposed sites in the North of the country.


Soil temperature for germination is 46º F (7º C) minimum. Early sowings should be made indoors in gentle heat in January or February in trays or in modules, 3-4 seeds per cell. Outdoor sowings can be made from March to early May, earlier with cloche protection. Sow 2.5cm (1") deep. Seedlings should be thinned to 4cm (1½") apart.

Transplantation of leeks starts in early June and may continue until early August as space becomes available. Obviously, the earlier transplantation takes place, the bigger the final crop is likely to be. The traditional way, to produce the longest white shanks, is to transplant individual leeks into 15-20cm (6-8") deep holes made with a dibber in a V-shaped trench to make it easier to earth them up later in the season. Do not trim the roots or leaves. Transplants are simply dropped into the holes and watered in. They will fill naturally with soil gradually through the growing season. As plants grow earth them up by drawing dry soil around the shank; do this several times during the growing season.

Leeks should be watered well after transplanting. If the weather is dry, daily watering at about ¼ pint per plant per day is necessary until they are established. Thereafter, additional watering is only necessary if very large leeks are desired: the more water, the bigger the leeks.

Highest yields are obtained at spacings of 15cm by 30cm (6"x12"). Spacing at 7-10cm (3-4") apart will result in smaller, slender leeks. Alternatively, space at 17cm each way (7"x7"). Multiple sown modules can be planted at spacings of 22cm each way (9"x9").

Harvest leeks as required from October to June. Mid-season and late cultivars may be left to stand outside all winter. Even early leeks will stand for 3 months when mature. If the ground is needed for a spring crop, leeks may be lifted and heeled in temporarily elsewhere.

Pests and diseases

Most common is rust, but the damage is usually mainly cosmetic and confined to the outer leaves.

Onion white rot can be a problem, worst in hot dry summers. Symptoms are yellow, wilting foliage and fluffy white mould around the roots, in which round black fruiting bodies appear. Affected plants should be lifted and burnt. No alliums should be grown on infected land for at least 8 years.

Stem and bulb eelworm is the most serious problem likely to occur, and is dealt with by rotation and keeping the ground weed-free.

If you're interested in healthy food, you may also be interested in our sister site, The Health Site, Your Online Health Channel.

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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