Leeks are one of my favourite vegetables, and growing my own is such a pleasure. They’re one of those veggies that you can plant and basically just leave to their growth. In this quick post I want to go through how to harvest and store them. They are best when fresh. And though they aren’t meant to be saved for as long as, say, onions, winter squash or potatoes. They can still last for quite a while if stored properly.
I’ll do a full post about planting and growing leeks at some point, but since it’s harvest season, I thought I’d start with this quick one.
The first time I grew leeks, I wish I’d had a tutorial on how to harvest and store them properly. At the time the internet hadn’t yet become as vast as it is now, so there wasn’t much info online.
When to Harvest:
Deciding when to harvest your leeks is the first step. A basic rule that most gardeners follow is to wait until the leek is roughly 1-1.5 inches in diameter. It’s also good to add in timing and weather to your choice as well. If you have shorter seasons and very harsh winters like I do, make sure you pick a suitable variety. Some varieties like the Lancelot, that I planted this year can deal with frosts at least a few times. Some varieties can actually tolerate being snowed on in places where the winters aren’t as harsh. So choosing a good variety for your area will help you get larger leeks.
Digging them out:
Once your leeks have reached a good size it’s time to dig them out. It can be tempting to simply grab hold of them and pull, but try to resist. Since leeks are just tightly wrapped leaves, pulling them will only result in the leek ripping and sometimes breaking right in half. What you want to do is loosen the roots first.
To do this, simply dig a trowel of garden fork into the soil about 2 inches beside the leek and gently pry the soil and leek upwards from underneath. That way you will pull up the whole plant roots and all without damaging the leaves.
Trimming them up
Once you have all your leeks out of the ground, it’s time to trim them up for storage. There are two ways that I’ve used to store leeks in the past, and both are good. So choose the one that works best for your circumstances. For both though, you want to trim your leeks a bit first. When your leek comes out of the ground the roots will be quite long and they will have a few outer leaves that aren’t as healthy looking as the rest.
Start by removing the one or two outer leaves that don’t look too happy. Do this by pulling the leaves back to the roots.
Next you want to trim the roots a bit. The leek will still need some roots for storage, they just need a small haircut. Trimming the roots down will encourage the roots to continue to absorb moisture and not let the leeks dry out and get sad.
The next thing I do is trim the leaves a bit. The long, more fibrous ends of the leaves aren’t something you’ll be eating anyways, and they will only draw energy from the roots, that could go towards the more important body of the leek. So I trim them off, wash them and use them in Chicken or Vegetable Stock.
Now that you have your nicely trimmed leeks it’s time to store them
The first option, is for those who have a place in their house like a root cellar, that stays between 0-4 degrees Celius (32-40 degrees Fahrenheit). Start by putting about 6-8inches of quite damp sand in the bottom of a large plastic bucket. Next, without getting the leaves of the leeks too wet, partially bury them into the sand. Stored this way the leeks will last for 2-3 months.
The other option that I’m using this year, with my lack of a root cellar is easier for those who only have a fridge to use. As well as your fridge being cold, the humidity needs to stay high around the roots of the leeks. Start by wetting a few pieces of paper towel and wringing them out slightly so they aren’t sopping wet. line the bottom of a large zip lock or plastic grocery bag. Place the leeks into the bag with the roots nestled down into the damp paper towel, and the leaves coming out the top of the bag. Place the bag or leeks into a crisper drawer to help hold in humidity. Leeks will keep for about 1-1.5 months stored this way. Check them occasionally to make sure the leaves aren’t getting too damp.
Hopefully now you can feel good about storing your leek harvest for a good chunk of the winter. Being able to enjoy a fresh leek in the depths of winter is one of the best things about gardening. Or at least I think so!