You Can Grow That!

Leeks – You Can Grow That!

Being no stranger to growing plants in the Allium family – onions, scallions, garlic, chives, and many ornamentals – leeks had always scared me off. It certainly was not their flavor, which I love. It was the supposed extra care – hilling soil around the growing stalks – that caused me to leave leeks off my garden list of edibles. Boy was I wrong! Leeks are a great You Can Grow That! edible plant.

You Can Grow That! is a monthly blogging meme started by C.L. Fornari – she blogs at Coffee for Roses – to encourage anyone, novice or seasoned gardener, to stick their hands in the soil to grow something. Having grown plants for nearly 40 years, I’m still amazed by the power in each tiny seed.

I start seeds indoors, under lights, every spring. Each year, to expand my knowledge, I try growing at least one new plant or variety. Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) were my 2014 choice; the King Richard variety offered by Botanical Interests. I started two small flats in early March and grew them under lights until night temperatures in my zone 6 Connecticut garden remained above the hard freeze level. That’s when the leeks went into the mini-greenhouse in a protected, full-sun location. They moved to their summer home, a raised-bed, sometime in late May.

I planted the thin seedlings into a six-inch deep trench dug into the soil of the raised bed, then gently hilled soil up around the small transplants, leaving some of the green ends above soil level. After watching, watering, and waiting, the seedlings had grown enough to hill even more soil around the growing stalks. This is done to obtain the long white-flesh area – the edible part – at the base of each stalk. As the leeks grew, occasionally mounding more soil around each stalk took little time and effort. Once the soil was mounded to a total of 8 to 9 inches (remember, they were planted in 6-inch deep trenches), I added 2 inches of shredded straw to help keep soil moisture even and prevent weed growth.

For the rest of the growing season I pretty much ignored the leeks. By the time I harvested a couple in early autumn, they had grown quite large. Still, I left most in the ground for later harvest.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in sough-central Connecticut.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in south-central Connecticut.

Here’s how they looked when harvested right before Thanksgiving. The center leek is actually a bit more mature than recommended. The aim is to harvest before the ends begin to bulb.

There’s about a half-dozen more still in the raised bed, which is now covered as a mini hoop house for extra cold-weather protection. I expect to be harvesting leeks well into the winter.

These beauties were so easy to grow, and took up so little raised-bed real estate, that their now on my yearly edible plant list. And … they are delicious, imparting a mild oniony flavor to foods.

Northern gardeners can start leek seeds inside 8 to 10 weeks before the average last frost. After risk of a killing freeze passes, transplant leeks, 4-6 inches apart, into a trench at least 6 inches deep. Water regularly and mound soil up around growing plants as noted above. Gardeners in milder climates can sow leeks outdoors in spring for fall harvest or in late summer for harvesting the following spring.

For more growing suggestions, head to the You Can Grow That! website and read about other great edible and ornamental plants to grow. Then sit back and dream of all you could do in next year’s garden.

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An appreciation for natural landscapes – You Can Grow That!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bees you see buzzing from phlox to phlox, the ladybugs you want feeding on aphids, and the praying mantis staring back at you in late summer all have more in common than just being bugs. They share something with toads stalking your garden’s ground level insects, birds picking beetles from your beans, and fox keeping small rodents in check. All need wild spaces, open spaces, woods, meadows, wetlands … swaths of land and water left mostly unaltered by human development. Therefore, as a gardener you serve your plantings, and beyond these, your neighborhood, your town, your region, your state, your country, and your planet by seeking out and working with your local land trust or land conservation organization to preserve and develop an appreciation for natural landscapes.

Why include a call to preserve natural landscapes as a You Can Grow That! post? The theme for this month is how each gardener has the power to beautify their neighborhood and town. Working to create community, school, and public space gardens are obvious, valuable and important ways to do so, but so is the preservation of undeveloped open spaces where native flora and fauna can continue to interact as they have for centuries.

Preserved open spaces allow us to witness how forests, meadows, wetlands and waterways, grasslands and other undeveloped areas act without the often heavy hand of humans; to see wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, mosses and trees for more than their ornamental value, but as homes and restaurants for wildlife. Preserved open spaces help us understand ecosystem balance.

To borrow from Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home,

“Nearly every creature on this planet owes its existence to plants, the only organisms capable of capturing the sun’s energy and, through photosynthesis, turning that energy into food for the rest of us.”

And what, Tallamy explains, do plants depend upon for pollination? Insects. And what do insects need to survive? The plants they use for food and have evolved with in local, natural, balanced landscapes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Preserving such local landscapes helps insure local plants and insects have what they need, which helps insure local birds and larger wildlife will continue to exist and thrive, which helps maintain ecosystem balance.

Just think, a single oak tree can support more than 500 species of butterflies and moths. Bluestem grasses growing in an unmowed meadow host skipper butterflies. Violets thriving in a chemical-free lawn host fritillary butterflies. (Source: Bringing Nature Home)

I think that understanding this makes one a better gardener … one who gets the value of using and planting native flowers, shrubs and trees to help balance the impact human presence has on the land; one who realizes that surrounding their vegetable garden with native flowering plants will attract beneficial pollinators that, in turn, will insure better yields and help keep non-beneficial insects in check; one that sees leaf litter as a goldmine of nutrients that will help replenish their cultivated soils; one who values insects as wildlife food, and wildlife as a means of keeping other wildlife, including insects, in check.

When you think of the You Can Grow That! slogan consider more than just the cultivated gardens we so cherish. Reach beyond your garden fence to offer time and/or support to land and waterway conservation that insures the features that make your region unique are preserved for now and into the future.

 

On the 4th of each month,  C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening urges garden bloggers to champion the virtues of gardening.

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All of this month’s, as well as previous posts from gardeners in multiple zones, can be found at the You Can Grow That! website.

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