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Leeks: "The Gourmet's Onion"

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Leeks, sometimes called "the gourmet's onion" are related to onions and garlic, but have flat leaves instead of tubular and relatively little bulb development. They're easy to grow and delicious, with a taste all their own, very much like a mild onion. The thick leaf bases and slightly developed bulb look like a giant green onion, and are eaten as a cooked vegetable.

Leeks are a cool-season crop. They do best in full sun in light, well-drained soil. But they are more successful in heavier soils than onions. They are also a rather long-season crop (80-120 days). It is best to start seeds indoors 4 to 10 weeks before the average date of last frost and transplant the seedlings into the garden.

Sow the seeds thinly and evenly 1/4 inch deep in moistened soilless potting mix and cover them lightly with vermiculite or sand. Keep the soil temperature at about 70 degrees F until the seeds germinate. Move the seedlings under grow lights or into a very bright window. Thinning the seedlings will encourage more rapid growth, but it isn't necessary if you keep them well fertilized.

When the grass-like seedlings get to be 6-7 inches long, cut them back to 1½ - 2 inches. Harden off the plants before transplanting into the garden starting in mid to late April (the plants will tolerate light frost).

In order to grow a large, white leek the lower part of the stem must be blanched. This can be accomplished by hilling the soil up around the stalk as it develops. Alternatively, you can plant into a trench 6-8 inches deep and then gradually fill the trench up as the plant grows.

Midseason fertilization is recommended. In mid-summer cut off the top half of the leaves to encourage greater stalk growth.

Leeks can be poached, steamed or braised whole, or chopped crosswise for use in sauces, vegetable dishes, soups, casseroles and stir-fries. Combined with potatoes, they're the key ingredients in the classic recipe vichyssoise, or leek and potato soup.

This resource was added February 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

PHOTO Credit: Jack Scheper - copyright 2005

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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