Gardening for You Leeks are enticing crops that and be harvested at any stage

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Ellen Peffley
| Lubbock Avalanche Journal

Leeks are more common in the product department than in a garden, which is a shame as it gives a garden a certain elegance with its stately, upright, blue-green foliage.

Leek, Allium ampeloprasum, belongs to the Liliaceae family and, as Allium, is a cousin of the Allium cepa onion. But instead of producing an onion, a swollen tubular leaf sheath is enclosed by thick, flat, stiffly erect, overlapping leaves up to 36 inches in height.

The center of origin of leek is the Mediterranean region of the Middle East. Grown as an ancient vegetable in Egypt, it was one of the foods the Israelites craved for in the Sinai Desert when they made their exodus from Egypt.

Leek is known as the national symbol of Wales, likely brought to Wales by the Romans on their way to the British Isles. It is said that green and white were adopted as the colors of the Welsh flag in honor of the green and white leaves of the leek.

Leeks can be difficult to start with because the seeds are very small and the seedlings are delicate to emerge. Seeds germinate in 14 days at the optimal temperature of 70 ° F, but emergence will be slowed at cooler temperatures. Because the seed is so small, seedlings are difficult to establish when sown directly into the ground. Therefore gradually place them in the garden as seedlings.

• Step one. Start the seedlings in sowing areas or trays. Broadcast seeds at intervals of about 1 inch; cover lightly with potting soil. Keep moist. Move to a warm, sunny spot to make germination easier.

• Step two. When seedlings have appeared and have at least two real leaves, carefully pull apart the roots of the seedlings and place individual plants in small pots or growing shell cells.

• Step three. Plant in the garden when the leaves are about 6 inches long and the stems are pencil-sized. Acclimatize young plants before heading out. Transplant in well-composted, loose soil; Use a dibble to punch holes in the ground to a depth of 3 inches. Place holes 6 inches apart in rows with 1 foot between rows. Put young plants in holes with their roots touching the ground. do not cover. Water holes good. After several waterings, the soil falls into the hole, and the shells of young plants are loosely covered. Loose earth causes the shell to swell.

Leek is a long-term plant that is put in the garden in spring. The great joy of having them in a garden is that not only are they attractive plants, but they can be harvested at any time. Harvest by loosening and lifting the roots with a digging fork, gently pulling the root base up on the leaves. The plants grow all summer into fall and can be harvested in Lubbock Gardens well into January.

Ellen Peffley taught college horticulture for 28 years, 25 of them at Texas Tech. During this time she developed two types of onions. She is now the sole owner of From the Garden, a gardening farmette. You can email her at Gardens@suddenlink.net