Thursday, 3 March 2011

The vegetable patch – Sowing Leek – Thoughts about leek sowing

At this time of year you start to look at whether you should sow some seeds. We are way past the winter solstice now (21 st December) and you notice in the garden a range of the hardier seedlings starting to sprout.
Now, there are some seeds where sowing early is a real advantage. One of the most important of these are leeks. The reason for this is that the season for leek is not really long enough in Britain, so even at the best of times you often get thinner leeks than the ones you see in the shops. Most of them are grown in other countries.

Sowing leek seeds is easy, and is a great choice for people who like soups.

When to sow leeks?
On the other hand, I have just been outside, and have come to the conclusion that it is too wet to sow in the ground. You can tell whether the ground is workable bu doing a simple test. It’s called weeding. If, after fifteen minutes of weeding, you don’t find your hands feeling unpleasantly wet, muddy or cold, it is probably a great time to sow seeds.

If you go on the forums, people are always giving advice on the best time to sow seeds. This is my advice: actually garden, and when you notice things are starting to be easier to work with, you know it is time. That goes against the advice in all the books, and web sites, but a garden can b e workable, while another one 150 yards away in a frost pocket is not.

So, I did the weeding test... the soil is not workable yet... clammy, cold and wet.

Not a good time to sow leeks
Sowing leeks indoors

There are three choices left:

  •         Sow into trays 
  •          Sow into plugs
  • ·        Sow into root trainers

Which of these offer the best solution?

Are seed trays good for leeks?
Well, we can quickly get rid of the idea of sowing into trays. The reason for this is that leek seeds are notoriously difficult to transplant. Just moving the roots a little bit, and the plant probably won’t do at all.

 Are plug trays good for leeks?

Plugs are trays with individual compartments so you can move the soil. They are far better than trays for leeks. If you think the soil will be workable in a few weeks, they are a great choice. Because you move the root as a whole, you don’t disturb the plant. But there is a lot less room available for the leek seedling.

If you allow the roots to form into a ball, this will end up stunting the plants growth, because you will have to tease them out or the plant will simply not do well.

If you expect to plant out quickly, plugs are a great choice, since they are very cost effective. If not, you are left with the more expensive choice.
 Root trainers for sowing leeks

So if you are not sure whether you will be able to plant soon, you can go for a root trainer.

There are two main types of root trainers on the market...
  • ·         Plastic root trainers that are certainly easy to use, and work really well.
  • ·         Paper and biodegradable root trainers.
The original root trainer we used to use as a kid were toilet rolls, you simply filled them with soil, and put them in the tray. They actually still work well for the purpose. If you are planting within a month or so, and you take care, they are a very low cost way of sowing leeks.

More modern biodegradable root trainers are an innovation; they are designed in order to degrade once they hit the soil, so you simply plant them out. No root disturbance at all. Unfortunately, they are very expensive still.

So we went with the plastic root trainer. This is a device that separates into two, contains a lot of room for soil, and is ideal for leeks. In two months when we plant out, they will be a good size, and having been planted under heat will be decent sized, and will hopefully produce a great crop.

When sowing leek, make sure you sow two to each root trainer, and once you can tell which one is best, thin it out. 

Also, make sure you don’t use pure peat free compost for leek seedlings; they need a lot of nourishment and so simply won’t do well without the extra comfort?

So, is all this extra work worthwhile? I don’t show leeks, the largest leeks aren’t all that important to me, but leeks bought in the shop have much less flavour, and are not anywhere near as potent as home grown leeks. And I simply love the flavour in winter soups.

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