ordering seeds for spring planting. The little packets have arrived with all the promise they have stored inside, but we're still weeks away from planting because of all the snow. It's not likely we'll get the snow peas in by St. Patrick's Day, and even the hardier lettuces won't germinate if the soil is still really cold. So while I wait, I've been thinking some of the other vegetables we plan to grow this summer. With so many vegetables to chose from, how do you narrow the list down to a number you can manage?
If your garden space is limited - we have about 400 square feet - you just can't grow everything you want to. So the strategy I usually suggest to would-be gardeners is to grow the vegetables that you like best, those that are the most expensive to buy or the hardest to find in stores or farmers' markets, and those that taste best when just picked.
Leeks always appear near the top of my list. While they aren't hard to find and the flavor isn't appreciably different if they are just harvested or if they've been shipped from somewhere, leeks tend to be expensive. Recently, we bought 3 good-sized leeks at the grocery store, and the tab came to $2.99. Basically a dollar per leek. That's pretty pricey.
We use leeks, especially in cold weather, to make home-made vegetable or chicken stock; potato leek soup; leek and cheddar quiche; and just last week for an incredible rustic shrimp bisque. I've also made frizzled leeks, and if you haven't tried them, you should.
Leeks are part of the Allium family, the same as onions, garlic, shallots and chives.
I grew leeks from sets last year that were given to me by my friend Jenn of The Turnip Truck. The sets look like tiny scallions - not quite as big as a slim pen, and about 4 to 5 inches long. Jenn gave me instructions for growing them: take a Sharpie pen, push it into the soil, pop a leek set into the hole, and water. That was it. The watering pushes the soil that has been displaced by the pen back up and around the tiny leek. You can help the process along and mound the soil up around the the baby plant. The higher the soil goes, the longer the white part of the leek will be (this is called blanching). Young leeks like to be well-watered but will tolerate less water as they get larger. They also do well if you've added lots of nice, rich compost to the soil before you plant them.
I was only moderately successful with the leeks last year. But excessive rain and aggressive weeds took a toll. The leeks I did harvest were delicious! This year I plan to grow about 100 leeks...store value about $100. That sounds like a lot of leeks, but remember, I'll be sharing the garden's bounty with 3 other families. As soon as I know how much the sets cost, I'll let you know.