Leeks have always felt like a luxury vegetable for me. I associate them with lush, creamy bakes with blue cheese, and nourishing winter soups. Yum scrum! Growing regular leeks requires dedication and patience; they take 100-130 days to reach maturity. But luckily for gardeners there is a handy shortcut: perennial leeks!
This special variety produces baby leeks around the base, so when you harvest the mama leek there are transplants ready to pop back in for your next crop. Rather than a patch of leeks that are all ready to dig at the same time, you end up with a demographically-diverse patch of leeks that will mature in succession. It’s total gold for gardeners and I don’t think I’ll ever bother growing normal leeks from seed again.
The hardest part about growing perennial leeks is tracking them down. I have never seen them in a conventional nursery and they are hard to find even online. Your best chances are local food gardeners, transition and permaculture groups, and with specialist perennial and permaculture plant nurseries. When you’re trying to build up numbers, slice the base and roots off any that you harvest and replant.
Choose a position with reasonable drainage in full sun or part shade. Deal with any soil compaction by loosening the soil as deeply as possible with a garden fork, then lightly mix an inch or two of compost into the surface. Trim the green leaves of your transplants (to reduce moisture loss while they get established) and bury about 15-20cm deep. The deeper you bury your leeks, the larger the white portion of the final leek will be – but I always eat the whole leek including leaves anyway (see below). You can make holes easily by poking an old broom handle into the soil. Water in.
Perennial leeks are generally tolerant of neglect. They may die back to small bulbs in summer if the soil becomes too dry, but will usually reshoot when conditions improve. They can rot in the ground if the soil is too damp and poorly drained. The leeks will grow faster and more lush if they are given compost, moisture, mulch and an occasional seaweed/worm juice tonic – but if you forget all these they will usually still hang in there. Perennial leeks are generally pest free, although slugs and snails may eat the leaves. Use handpicking at night after watering or rain and beer traps to keep these pests under control. Your leeks will grow relatively slowly but around December you’ll notice many baby leeks sprouting from their base.
You can eat these leeks at any size – including gour-met baby leeks if you’re feeling fancy! Perennial leeks may not get as large as those you find in a store, but you’ll get many more of them. To harvest, use a garden fork to loosen the soil and pull out the clump. Separate the mama leek for the kitchen, and replant the baby leeks.
How to eat
These are just a special variety of regular leek so use any of your favourite recipes. Slice down the centre and gently separate the layers under a running tap to remove any trapped soil. The leek greens are also tender and delicious. Slice them a little finer and cook slightly longer than the blanched stem. Eating your vegetable ‘offal’ will give you a much better harvest from a small garden!
PS. If you think perennial leeks are rad, check out bunching onions (like a spring onion) and potato onions (like a regular onion/shallot) that have a similar dividing growth habit. Finally, make sure you share your leeks so as many gardeners as possible can benefit from this freakin’ awesome variety!