Long Shanks

I grow an old French heirloom leek called Blue Solaise (or Bleu de Solaise), so-named because of the color of its beautiful flags–the top part of the leek that is great for making soup stock, but not usually used in cooking otherwise.

Blue Solaise Leeks, 2008

Blue Solaise Leeks, 2008

Blue Solaise is an extremely cold-hardy leek–here on the northern edge of Zone 5 it overwinters quite handily, unless it is eaten down by deer–these leeks are very sweet after a few frosts.  Currently I have about five or six survivors from last year’s crop that are forming huge ball-shaped flowers, and will make seed I can save after that.

The usual trade-off between a super-hardy and a summer-harvested leek is that while the cold-hardy leek’s shank (the part you eat) is very thick, it is usually fairly short–Blue Solaise is generally a pretty squat plant as leeks go.  Too, when you grow leeks in beds as I do, it’s difficult to do the hilling required to elongate the shank as much as possible.

What I have noticed over the past few years of growing this variety is that when two leeks end up growing together (more than one seed germinated in the cell, and I didn’t notice and thin at transplanting time), the shanks are longer and thinner–more like a summer leek.

This year’s crop was transplanted in April, and they went into a bed that looked really good then–but I should have known it’d be weedy because it wasn’t a finished bed last year.  I’ve been progressively trying to get the grass and weeds out of there, but in the process, I realized it was going to be a season-long battle.

Next door to the leek bed was another weedy mess–this one an experiment in letting my soon-to-be-seven-year-old son decide what he wanted to plant and water and weed and sell at the farmers market. Well, even though I was quite willing to help him with these chores, it soon became apparent that I was going to be doing all the work.

I pulled the last of those carrots on Thursday, and I turned under the ridiculously weedy bed.  I turned it again today, and slowly worked through all the soil to get every last clump of grass and thistle root out (I’d at least been pulling everything that was going to seed during the carrots’ brief sojourn there).

Once the bed was clear of weeds and worked deep, I started making trenches–one at a time–along the short axis, pulling back the soil, working in some pelletized chicken manure, then digging the leeks out of their bed and transferring them to the new one–planting them deep so only the top couple inches of leaves (flags) were sticking up.

Altogether, I managed to get eighty-five leeks into that (about 3 1/2 x 15′) bed–they’re spaced a bit closer than they were in the old bed, but they are all growing singly, as the transplant allowed me to separate the doubled-up plants. They’re also growing deep in a nicely amended soil that should hopefully encourage them to grow both fat and long.

I doubt that this is the best time to do this kind of project–it is warming up, after all, and we’re past the solstice too.  But if nothing else I’ll learn if it’s worthwhile, if I’m going to grow leeks in beds, to get the young transplants going in a nursery bed and then move them to deeper quarters when they reach a reasonable size.


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