Toilet roll centres make great make-do containers for sowing seeds. Photograph: briannaorg/Flickr/Some rights reserved
The cardboard inner of a loo roll inspires fine creations with the likes of pipe cleaners, scissors and paintbrush. Who hasn’t tried their hand at a robot, doll or marble run, even in these days of the Playstation and Nintendo DS? But outdoors in the garden, these cardboard tubes also have their uses – this time as make-do containers in which to start off seeds.
This is particularly so if you’re growing plants that make long roots, such as French beans and other legumes, so that early growth is not restricted. When it comes to planting out, you put the whole caboodle in the ground. Roots remain unmolested, cardboard rots, plant thrives in its new home, job done.
Besides the satisfying thought of making use of the entire loo roll (and assuming you’re not still in the habit of making robots and marble runs), tubes replace the need for root trainers. The latter are obelisk-like contraptions, hinged at one end so they can be opened, and seedling and soil removed with little fuss. Apart from being obscenely expensive for what they are, they’re also made of plastic, another reason why it’s nice to not have to buy them.
This weekend at home, I’ll be dusting off the tubes I’ve been collecting, ready to sow my French beans in them. Although the weather is now warm enough to put them straight into the vegetable bed (tradition says the second week of May is safe from frost), starting them this way, raised up on the potting bench, they’ll escape the worst of the snails and slugs. These pests adore French beans and even when the seedlings are large enough to go in the ground – bigger, stronger and more able to withstand the nightly nibbles – the pests will take their toll. Snails and slugs adore French beans and can soon reduce healthy plants to a tattered rabble. It’s best then to sow twice as much as you need.
PS When planting out your beans, I find that if you score the cardboard tube with a Stanley knife and gently open it on one side, my plants tend to grow more quickly.
PPS Sow some more seeds in a couple of months, so you have a follow-on bean crop. Put it in the diary.
- Quick Guide to Growing Leeks
- Soil, Planting, and Care
- Special Allium Topic for October: Choosing bulb onion varieties
- Planting Leeks
- Grow and Save Leek Seeds
- How to Grow Leeks
- How to Save Leek Seeds
- A Guide to Root Vegetables
- The Health Benefits of Root Vegetables
- What is the Best Season for Root Vegetables?
- How Do You Choose Roots?
- How Do You Store Root Vegetables?
- What Are the Various Types of Roots?
- How Do You Prepare Root Vegetables?
- All About Root Vegetables: Turnips, Rutabagas and Parsnips
- Leeks are in season. We have recipes
- When to Harvest Leeks
- How to Harvest Leeks
- How to Store Leeks
Quick Guide to Growing Leeks
- Plant leeks during the cool weather of early spring and fall. They grow well in raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens.
- Space leeks 6 inches apart in an area that gets 6 or more hours of sun daily and has nutrient-rich, well-drained soil.
- Improve native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Leeks aren’t fussy, but they do require moist soil, so check soil moisture often and use a soaker hose if necessary.
- One week after planting, begin regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Harvest leeks at any time once they are large enough to eat.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Plant leeks in a sunny spot in soil that is fertile and well-drained. Leeks thrive in traditional garden beds, raised beds, or even in tall containers, so choose whatever works best for you. Space leeks 6 inches apart when planting.
Leeks need two things to thrive: lots of nitrogen and consistent soil moisture. If possible, add compost to the leek bed the season prior to planting. To improve the soil if you haven’t thought that far ahead, mix in a few inches of Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs with your native soil. Or, if planting in raised beds or containers, be sure to fill them with the right type of soil for that growing environment, such as Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil for raised bed gardens and Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix for pots.
To produce a succulent white stem, leeks must be blanched — in other words, covered or hidden from the sun. To do this, plant leeks into deep holes. (Deeper planting yields a more drought-resistant plant, too.) Create a narrow trench 6 to 8 inches deep, then tuck seedlings into the trench, adding soil back so it comes up to the base of the first green leaf. Water well.
After planting, mulch the bed with straw or some other organic material to help soil retain moisture. Feed newly planted leeks with a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Plant Food. Water leeks as needed until plants are established. After that, plants require an inch of water a week, either through rainfall or irrigation. Inconsistent moisture yields tough stems. Continue fertilizing plants with liquid plant food every week or so during the growing season, following label directions.
As leeks grow, mound the soil from the trench around stems, beginning when stems are 1 inch thick.
Fall leek varieties have yellower-green foliage than winter leeks and reach size in less time. We eat ours in October and November. Photo Bridget Aleshire
This is the sixth in my monthly series of Alliums for the Month posts, which run from May to April.
Plant various perennial alliums in October
Plant shallot bulbs between October and November, if your winters aren’t too cold. Mulch them well. We tried to over-winter replanted shallot bulbs, but we got lots of winter-kill. To save bulbs for replanting in early spring, refrigerate them. You can alternatively start shallots from seed in late January in zone 7 and plant in spring.
Divide & replant Egyptian onions & perennial leeks September-November. Plant perennial leeks from dry bulbs a month earlier than divisions: August-October. Perennial leeks take 9-12 months to grow to a good size.
Photo Small Farm Central
Harvest fall leeks in October (and November)
Common leeks are Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum. Leeks come in two main types: the less cold-hardy, faster-growing fall varieties, often with lighter green leaves, which are not winter-hardy north of Zone 8, and the blue-green hardier winter leeks. In the first category, we like Lincoln (50 days to slender bunching leeks, 75 days to mature leeks), King Richard (75 days, fast-growing) and Giant Bulgarian. American Flag has not worked well for us. Giant Musselburgh (105 days) is bolt-resistant, for overwintering in milder climates. For winter leeks we like Tadorna (100 days), Jaune du Poiteau, King Sieg (84 days, a cross between King Richard and the winter-hardy Siegfried, from Fedco) and Bleu de Solaize (105 days, very hardy).
Leeks can be harvested whenever they seem big enough. To feed a hundred people, we like to have one bed of 1080 leeks for harvesting each month, from October to February. We grow two beds of fall leeks and three of winter-hardy ones. About ten leeks each, each month.
When harvesting leeks, remember how deep you planted them and try to avoid spearing them. Put the tines of a digging fork (spading fork) vertically down in the ground 2″–3″ (5–8 cm) away from the leeks. I try to dig up two at once for efficiency. Step on the fork and lever back until the leeks move. Impatient pulling of unloosened leeks leads to broken ones. Remove one leek, chop off the roots, invert the plant and cut the leaves in a V shape, so that the tougher outer leaves are shortest and the younger inner leaves are longest. Clean up any obviously inedible outer layers, then put the leek in a bucket. We put an inch (2.5 cm) of water in the bottom of the bucket (to keep the leeks hydrated) before taking the leeks to the cooler. If the ground is frozen too deep to pierce the crust with the fork, you may be able to harvest a few leeks for immediate use by pouring boiling water along the row at the base of the plants. This does not seem to damage the leaves.
Read about the early summer task of planting leeks here.
Other October allium harvests
Harvest and eat large perennial leeks, and leaves of Egyptian onions and smaller perennial leeks September –April, whenever they are large enough.
Australian Brown onions.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Eat onions and garlic from storage
Eat the non-storing onions and the hardneck garlic first. Sort through your bulb onions once a week or so, removing any that are having troubles, before the trouble spreads to other bulbs. Then work your way through the non-storing varieties such as Ailsa Craig, Walla Walla, etc.
Silverskin softneck garlic varieties store up to 12 months under the best conditions. Most softneck garlic stores for longer than the 4-6 months that most hardnecks will. (Music and Chesnok Red can keep 7 months or more here in central Virginia.)
Read more about garlic and onion storage in the September Allium of the Month post. Here’s the headlines:
Other resources on harvesting, curing and storing alliums
Garlic Harvest, Curing and Storage https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/garlic-harvest-curing-storage
Onion Harvest and Storage https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/onions-harvest-curing
Special Allium Topic for October: Choosing bulb onion varieties
Regular bulb onions are a biennial crop grown as an annual (A. cepa var. cepa). This botanical group includes bulb onions, scallions (spring onions, salad onions or escallions), and the small pickling onions (cipollini).
A fine bed of onions in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons
In our location the best time to sow bulbing onion seed is early November in our hoophouse. After over-wintering, we transplant them outdoors at the very beginning of March. (More on sowing onions next month.) If you want to sow in November as we do, now is the time to choose varieties. Factors include latitude, temperature, flavor preference and whether or not you hope to store onions or only grow for fairly immediate eating.
Onions have three separate phases of growth — vegetative, bulbing and blooming — and the switch from one phase to the next is triggered by environmental factors, mostly day-length and temperature. To grow large bulb onions it is important to produce large healthy plants before the vegetative stage gives way to the bulbing stage. If plants are small when bulbing starts, only small bulbs can result.
Be sure to choose varieties suited to your latitude, because onions are daylength sensitive. Varieties are classified as short day, intermediate day, or long day types, depending on the daylight length at which they start forming bulbs (assuming suitable temperatures): 10-12 hours, 12-14 hours, 14-16 hours. Onions bulb earlier at warm temperatures than at colder temperatures. More catalogs are now including the information on the latitude adaptation of their varieties.
The further north you are, the more hours of daylight you have in summer. Here, our longest day (summer solstice) has 14 hours and 46 minutes of daylight. We have 14 hours of daylight six weeks earlier, on May 6. A few varieties of long-day onions can be grown here, but those requiring 15 or 16 hours of daylight will never form bulbs at this latitude. South of their ideal growing region, long-day onions don’t start bulbing until triggered by the very longest days (near summer solstice) and the bulbs get too hot in July as they mature.
Short-day onions start to bulb at 10–12 hours of daylight, provided temperatures are warm enough. If short-day onions are grown too far north (where it is too cold to overwinter them, and they must be started in spring) they will bulb before much leaf growth has occurred, and so the bulbs will be small. At our latitude (38°N) neither long-day nor short-day onions are ideal.
Temperature – avoiding bolting onions
The trigger for the transition from bulbing to flowering (bolting) is temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for three to four weeks, after the plants have six leaves or more (pencil size). This is especially true when rapid growth is followed by a period of cool weather. The chilling effect appears to be cumulative over time. Hence you can see that to avoid bolting it’s important your seedlings don’t get too big too early in the winter. And that you give them extra protection if there is a long cold spell in spring before you plant them out. Daylength does not affect bolting.
For us to succeed with bulbing onions we need to produce transplants the thickness of thin pencils (⅜” or 1 cm) on March 1, our earliest possible date for planting outdoors. This gives the plants time to grow large before bulbing is triggered. Starting from seed in January didn’t give us time to grow big vegetative plants, therefore not big bulbs either. Starting plants in the fall and keeping them in coldframes or outdoors under rowcover gave us too much winter-kill. Once we discovered the method of using our hoophouse to keep little onions alive over the winter we were very happy.
We have sown bulbing onions for growing to maturity in the hoophouse, and, more often, we have grown onion seedlings for planting outdoors.
Other factors in choosing onion varieties
“Days to maturity” numbers in catalogs are generally for spring planting once conditions have warmed to the usual range for that crop. When growing late into the fall, add about 14 days for the slowdown in growth, and when growing over the winter, precise calculations go out the window!
Beware of white onions, which can get sun-scald, if growing them to maturity in a hoophouse.
Walla Walla onions
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Varieties for storage and fresh eating
We have to accept that hard storing onions cannot be grown in the south. At 38°N, some varieties that worked well for 6 month storage for us include: Gunnison, Frontier, Copra as the best three, then Patterson (Hybrid. High yield potential. 38°–55° latitude) and Prince. Prince has since been replaced by Pontiac, a large onion with strong skin, thin necks, suitable for 36°–50° latitude. We had only 50% success with Red Wethersfield and Cabernet. Some non-storing good ones for us include Ailsa Craig (OP aka Exhibition. High yield. Large. 33°–40° latitude), Walla Walla, Olympic, Bridger (Hybrid. Replaces Olympic. 35°–50° latitude), Expression. Varieties come and got. Australian Brown is one that sounds good, but I have not tried it.
More info on bulb onions
See Sustainable Market Farming for more on onions in general, including diseases.
See the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension publication Onion, by Joe Masabni. I don’t endorse the chemical pesticides mentioned, but the information on growing onions is very sound.
The different cultivated varieties of leek are classified according to the length of white base of the plant, thus existing long, short and semi-long leeks. Among the long varieties are included “Colonna’, “Argenta’ and ‘Helvetia’. Among the short and semi-long ones we find “Grueso de Rouen”, “Malabare’ and ” Electra’.
They can also be classified according to their adaptation to a given productive cycle. Thus, there are summer, autumn and winter varieties, that are distinguished for the length, diameter and consistency of the stem, as well as the intensity of their flavour. In general, winter leeks are thicker and of stronger taste. The summer varieties are usually smaller, tender, of smooth and delicate taste, although they sometimes show a woody heart, diminishing their quality.
Another criteria of classification of this species are its productivity, the basal bulb formation (lack or hardly developed), the colour of the leaves, etc.
At present there are some new varieties that are increasingly used, like “Poribleu’, “Carlton F1” and “Newton F1”.
Leeks are another cold season crop we love to plant that is a cousin of the onion and a member of the allium family. The Leeks flavour is in their white stems where it is blanched underground from the sunlight, so therefore Leeks need to be covered or hidden from the sunlight as they grow. Frost tolerant Leeks survive in winter and can be planted into beds in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Leeks are extremely hearty plants and virtually pest free and easy to grow. Leeks need both nitrogen and consistant moisture. We prefer starting Leek plugs indoors and after transplanting to our beds, we add a straw mulch to retain moisture around our young seedlings. Unstable watering may leave the stems tough and a continued fertilizing practice every week or so will help stimulate and propagate growth. Soft bellied insects and slugs may attack young plants, so monitoring this is recommended. As far as diseases go, a summer Leek rust may appear especially if there has been a wet growing period, so removing infected leaves should allow a healthy foliage return. Leeks are slow growers, so earlier planting is recommended and can be sown into the ground 8 weeks before the last spring frost date.
As mentioned, other options that we prefer are starting indoors and transplanting the seedlings when they are about the thickness of a pencil. We plant our seedlings approximately 4” wide and deep and spacing the plant 6” apart and 12” between rows and hill the soil around the plants as they grow to blanche the stem.
There are two types of Leeks, early maturing Leeks which are planted in early spring and harvested in mid to late summer which are not cold tolerant. Winter Leeks planted as a seedling for winter harvest, are planted around the first of May, harvesting around mid autumn, and leaving the balance to be harvested from December to mid March. For winter Leeks we will cover them with straw and mini hoop polytunnels or cold frames for these recommended cold tolerant types.
When havesting, carefully loosen the soil with a garden fork at the base of the plant and pull the stock to harvest. There is nothing better than Leek and Potato soup in the cold winter months.
By the way, here’s a delicious low carb leek – cauliflower soup recipe.
Step-by-Step Leek Planting Instructions
The ideal leek size for transplanting is between a pencil lead and a pencil in thickness. We plant at 6″ (15 cm) spacing, four rows to a 48″ (1.2 m) bed. People wanting really huge leeks use wider spacings. We use a special planting technique, in order to develop long white shanks, which are prized more than the equally edible green parts. If you have a crew, divide up and specialize. If not, take it one step at a time.
1. If the soil is dry, water it well, preferably the day before.
2. Make parallel V-shaped furrows, 3″ (8 cm) deep, along the bed.
3. Set out a fiberglass tape measure along one row.
4. Make holes 6″ (15 cm) apart in the furrows. Use the tape measure for one row and then eyeball the other rows to offset the leeks in alternate rows. The best tools for this job are homemade “dibbles” or dibblers made from broken shovel or digging fork handles, with the end sharpened to a point. The tool needs to have a diameter of 1.5–2″ (4–5 cm). The depth of the holes is determined by the height of the transplants, and probably needs to be 3″ (8 cm) or so.
5. If the holes cave in, stop and water the soil more before proceeding.
6. Transfer some leek seedlings from open flats or a nursery seedbed to a small bucket containing an inch or so of water. We make buckets from one-gallon (four-liter) plastic jugs with the top cut off. A rope handle knotted into holes at the top of the new bucket makes it easy to carry.
7. Resist any temptation to trim either the roots or the tops of the leeks.
8. To transplant, take a leek plant, shake it free from its neighbors and decide whether to plant it. Discard the ones thinner than pencil leads. If the plant is a good size and looks healthy, twirl it as you lower it into the hole to prevent the roots folding back on the plant and pointing at the sky — they need to grow downwards. This works best if the roots are still wet and muddy from the water bucket. Bobbing the plant up and down as you settle it in the hole will help a transplant that has slightly bunched roots.
9. If at first you don’t succeed, remove the plant from the hole, dip it back in the water and try again. Soon you will develop this quirky planting skill, and will be able to move along the row at a good pace. Ideally just the tips of the leaves will poke out of the holes, not more. Get the depth of the hole-making adjusted to suit the prevailing plant height. The furrow-and-hole combination creates the depth for growing a long white shank.
10. Surprising as it may sound, it is not necessary or desirable to fill the holes with soil (you don’t want to bury the seedlings). The soil fills in naturally as the plants grow tall enough to survive the depth.
11. Next gently fill each hole with water, either from a low-pressure hose or watering can. The goal is to water the plant roots, adding little or no soil to each hole. The shelter of the hole helps the plant get over the transplant shock, and because leeks have slender tough leaves, they do not lose a lot of water by transpiration. This means that transplanting is possible in quite hot weather.
12. Keep the soil damp for several days after planting,
13. Then give one inch (2.5 cm) of water per week as needed.
14. Like other alliums, leeks do not compete well with weeds, so hoe as needed, at least once a month. Hoeing will help fill the holes.
15. Some people hill up their leeks, but with this method it is not necessary. Our method avoids the problem of soil getting above the point where the leaves fan out from the stem, which makes them very hard to clean later.
Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at www.sustainablemarketfarming.com, Pam’s blog is on her website and also on facebook.com/SustainableMarketFarming.
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Leeks are hardy and trouble-free vegetables. Sow them in late winter to mid-spring. In this short video, we’ll show you how to grow leeks every step of the way: from sowing and transplanting to harvesting.
Leeks can be harvested over a long period if you choose the right mix of varieties. Varieties described as early-season leeks will be ready in time for autumn, while mid and late-season leeks can be harvested through the winter and into spring.
Leeks grow best in soil rich in organic matter, in a sunny, open position. Leave enough space between plants for good airflow. Look out for varieties described as ‘rust resistant’, as this fungal disease can cause minor problems from summer onwards.
Start sowing the earliest varieties under cover in late winter. Sow the seeds in pots or trays of potting soil for transplanting outdoors when they’re big enough. Our Garden Planner can recommend personalized times for sowing, planting and harvesting your crops in your location using data from your nearest weather station.
To sow your leek seeds, first sieve potting soil into pots or trays and gently tamp the potting soil down. Sow the seeds about an inch apart in trays or pots, or two seeds per cell in a plug tray. Cover them with a thin layer of more sieved potting soil, and water them. Keep the potting soil moist but not too wet.
Place early sowings on a sunny indoor windowsill or in a greenhouse. You may want to separate the seedlings into individual pots as they get bigger.
Leeks are ready to transplant when they are six to eight inches tall. Acclimatize them to outdoors conditions first (a process called ‘hardening off’) by putting them outside for increasingly longer periods over one to two weeks.
To plant your leeks in the soil, ‘dib’ holes that are about the same height as the stems of the leek seedlings. You can use a purpose-made tool to do this, or use the handle end of a garden hand tool such as a trowel. Make the holes about six inches apart, with a foot between rows. Alternatively, if you’re planting in blocks space them 7 inches apart each way.
Remove the leeks from their pots. If they haven’t already been potted on, you’ll need to carefully tease the roots apart. Place the seedlings into the holes, making sure the roots reach right down to the bottom of the hole. Fill the holes with water and leave to drain. Don’t fill the holes back in with soil – it will fall back in by itself over time, allowing the leek shanks (stems) to swell and helping to blanch them.
To maximize space, grow quick-growing salad leaves in between your newly planted leeks. These will need to be harvested by midsummer, when the leeks will need the space to grow well.
Water your leeks if the weather is very dry. Keep the ground between the leeks weed-free by hand weeding or hoeing once a week.
Growing leeks in holes will provide a short length of white stem, but for longer white stems you can blanch them by excluding light from the stems two to three weeks before harvesting. Simply draw the soil up around the leeks, or tie cardboard tubes around the stems.
Harvesting and Cooking Leeks
Harvest your leeks as soon as they’re big enough for your needs. Lever it out of the soil using a fork, while pulling up on the leaves. Trim the roots and any damaged leaves onto the compost heap and rinse off the soil.
In very cold areas you may wish to dig your leeks up before the ground freezes solid.
Leeks can be added to many recipes, for instance soups, pies and stir-fries. They also make a delicious side dish by sautéing them with cream and shredded cheese.
For best times to sow and harvest and proper plant spacing, use our online Garden Planner. We offer a free 7-day trial here: https://gardenplanner.almanac.com
Grow and Save Leek Seeds
How to Grow Leeks
Leeks have been used as a culinary crop for at least 4,000 years. Enjoy this historic allium in your garden and try your hand at biennial seed saving.
Time of Planting
Sow leek seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost date. Seedlings can be transplanted outside as soon as the risk of hard frost has passed.
Plant leek seeds ¼ inch deep into flats. When transplanting leeks into your garden, space them 6 inches apart.
Time to Germination
Leeks like soil rich in organic matter. They’re also a heavy feeder—meaning they prefer a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Common Pests and Diseases
Leeks can suffer from downy mildew, white rot, and leaf blight. Take care to rotate plant families in your garden to prevent diseases.
When and How to Harvest
Harvest leeks when they reach a diameter of between ½ to 1-½ inches. Take care to thoroughly wash your leek plants before cooking with them; dirt can accumulate between their tall leaves.
Leek can be used in many recipes that call for onions. The flavor and texture of leek holds up to a lot of cooking, so use leeks in soups, stews, and other simmered dishes.
Whole leeks will store for weeks in a refrigerator and months in a root cellar.
How to Save Leek Seeds
It may take additional time and effort to cultivate leeks for seeds rather than for eating, but because this biennial crop is fairly cold hardy, it can overwinter in the garden in many regions.
Recommended Isolation Distance
Separate varieties by 800 to ½ mile in their second year of growth.
Recommended Population Sizes
To ensure viable seeds, save seeds from at least 5 plants. When maintaining a variety over many generations, save seeds from 20-50 plants. If you’re saving seeds for genetic preservation of a rare variety, save seeds from 80 plants.
To produce seed from leeks, select several perfect leeks and store them through winter. Ideally, store leeks in a cool, dry space away from sunlight. Replant leeks in early spring using the same spacing used in their first year of growth. Staking leeks to prevent lodging during flowering is recommended.
Assessing Seed Maturity
Seed maturity occurs in the second growing season, when capsules split open to expose mature black seeds.
To harvest, cut the scape about 6 to 8 inches below the seed head. The harvested umbels should be placed in an open container or bag, or on a screen, to continue drying in a well-ventilated space for at least seven days. A longer drying period can make threshing easier, especially if many fruits were still green at harvest.
Cleaning and Processing
After the plants bloom and seed heads begin to dry, gather the heads in a paper bag and shake the seeds free. Allow the seeds to air-dry for a few days before storing the seeds in a cool, dry place.
Storage and Viability
Leek seeds will remain viable in cool, dry storage for a couple of years.
A Guide to Root Vegetables
Truth: root vegetables can be intimidating. Most of them have thick, strange looking skin and long stems with leaves sprouting out of them. Let’s face it, some of them look like they’re from outer space. Some root vegetables are given the cold shoulder because they have the reputation of tasting earthy and even bitter. But hold the phone. This guide to root vegetables can serve as inspiration to embrace the outcast extraterrestrial roots, as they are not only amazing for your health, but they are versatile in the kitchen and absolutely delicious when prepared properly.
The Health Benefits of Root Vegetables
Roots are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables in the world. While each root contains its own set of health benefits, they share many of the same characteristics. Yams, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, yuca, kohlrabi, onions, garlic, celery root (or celeriac), horseradish, daikon, turmeric, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, and ginger are all considered roots.
Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil. They are packed with a high concentration of antioxidants, Vitamins C, B, A, and iron, helping to cleanse your system. They are also filled with slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber, which make you feel full, and help regulate your blood sugar and digestive system. This factor, plus the high-octane nutrients and low calories, make roots excellent for people who are trying to lose weight, or simply stay healthy.
Adding up all of the nutrient qualities, root vegetables are disease-fighting, immunity and energy-boosting, and are also extremely versatile in cooking.
What is the Best Season for Root Vegetables?
Most root vegetables are available year round, but their peak season is fall through spring, with the exception of beets, which are best summer through fall. When in-season, roots have a deeper, sweeter flavor and tend to be juicier, but they are one of those plants that seem to stay consistently great all year long.
How Do You Choose Roots?
Selecting good root vegetables is the opposite of selecting good fruit–the harder, the better. They should be smooth and free of gashes or bruises. When choosing roots that come with leafy greens (a bunch of beets, for example), make sure the stems and leaves of the greens are firm and bright.
How Do You Store Root Vegetables?
While you certainly don’t need to have a root cellar to purchase and enjoy roots, they are best stored in a cool, dark, humid room. When storing them in the refrigerator, keep roots in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper. Storing them uncovered causes them to soften and go bad quickly.
What Are the Various Types of Roots?
There are almost too many to mention here! These are some of my favorites to cook with:
Sweet Potatoes & Yams // Among the most usable, user-friendly, and palatable roots, sweet potatoes and yams are great mashed, pureed and made into soup, roasted, and baked into muffins, cookies, pancakes and so much more. They can be used both in sweet and savory applications and are very well-matched with coconut milk, honey, maple syrup, orange, cinnamon, ginger, pecans, cashews, walnuts, raisins, and curry powder. Yams are often confused with sweet potatoes, and although they can be used interchangeably, there is a difference.
Beets // Touted as a superfood, beets are among the healthiest foods on the planet. They’re full of beta-carotene and betalains, which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Beets have an earthy, sweet flavor, and are best when roasted, steamed, or left raw and shredded. Golden beets are typically slightly sweeter than red beets. I find citrus (particularly oranges or clementines), blueberries, goat cheese, walnuts, ground cumin, cinnamon, and tahini are excellent compliments for beets. This Roasted Beet & Fig Salad is one of my go-to recipes.
Parsnips // Parsnips have a cinnamon-y flavor and resemble large white carrots (or albino carrots, as I like to call them). They are harder than carrots and have a deeper, warm flavor. I find parsnips are best used in soups, pureed into a mash, or sliced thinly for a parsnip gratin. Parsnips are complimented by nutmeg, cream, and thyme.
Turnips // While turnips are versatile, they are very subtle in flavor, which makes them great for pairing with more strongly flavored vegetables. They are great roasted, sautéed, or included in vegetable stir fry. You can also combine turnips with herbs, or use them in tomato-based chunky soups or creamy pureed soups.
Rutabagas // Similar to turnips, rutabagas are subtle in flavor. They are harder than turnips and taste a bit more earthy. Best when pureed or roasted, rutabagas go well with herbs, particularly dill, as well as lime and Indian spices.
Carrots // Crisp and sweet, carrots are perhaps the most popular root vegetable because they are perfect for eating raw. They match well with just about any vegetable in both cooked and raw applications and can be paired with any spice or herb.
Yuca Root // Starchy and subtle in flavor, yuca is often used the same way in cooking as potatoes. It is best when roasted or fried, and it tastes like a potato wedge, although the texture is somewhat stringy. Yuca can be paired with a wide variety of herbs, spices, cheeses, and sauces.
Kohlrabi // Underneath the thick skin and strange tentacles of kohlrabi lies juicy, crisp flesh. Kohlrabi can be cooked or left raw, and it makes delicious oven-baked fries. It can also be made into a mash, pureed into soup, or sliced thinly and added to salads. Combine kohlrabi with any of your favorite spices and herbs.
Ginger // Similar to beets, ginger is a powerhouse root due to its natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification properties. With a sweet, spicy, yet creamy flavor, ginger can be used in a large variety of foods and drinks. Ginger is most often used in ethnic food alongside coconut milk and a variety of vegetables, but its uses are virtually endless. Feeling like you’re getting a cold? Drink a kale-ginger detox smoothie and you’ll feel like a million bucks!
Onion & Garlic // There is debate as to whether or not onions and garlic are true root vegetables because they are bulbs and do not grow as deep as most of the other roots. Onions and garlic are widely used in cooking, as they both add a great deal of flavor to any dish, both raw and cooked. Both are considered to be heart-healthy veggies, increase circulation, and act as an anti-inflammatory.
How Do You Prepare Root Vegetables?
Roots can be prepared every which way. Experiment and discover what your favorite cooking methods and flavor profiles are!
Raw // Because root vegetables are hard and have an earthy flavor, they are most palatable when cooked. For those who prefer leaving their vegetables raw, carrots, beets, radishes, and jicama are good choices for slicing thinly or grating and tossing with dressing and/or other vegetables and fruit.
Steamed/Boiled // Steaming or boiling root vegetables is a great way of prepping them in order to mash or puree them. Mashed celery root or yams make healthful replacements for mashed potatoes, and any root can blended up into a creamy root soup.
Roasted // Roasting any type of vegetable cultivates flavor and texture. Chop up your favorite vegetables, drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle them with spices, and roast them in the oven. Balsamic Roasted Root Vegetables are an easy and delicious dish, and they’re a guaranteed way to get the vegetable-averse to eat and enjoy their veggies. You can also thinly slice roots, lay them on a baking sheet, and roast them into root chips.
Sautéed // Making a vegetable sauté or stir fry is a great way of preparing root vegetables. This is a relatively quick and easy cooking method, and all sorts of flavors can be added to the dish. When cooking with other types of vegetables besides roots, sauté the roots first, as they take longer to cook than other vegetables.
Grilled // Roots can be peeled, thinly sliced, brushed with oil, and grilled along with other summer vegetables. This adds a smoky flavor into the roots and softens their earthiness.
Hopefully those of you who were once on the root fence are now sitting cozy on Team Root. Good luck on all your root adventures, and remember: those who root together stay together.
All About Root Vegetables: Turnips, Rutabagas and Parsnips
With recipes for
- Mashed Parsnips with Roasted Leeks and Nutmeg
- Roasted Winter Vegetables with Basil Oil
- Turnip, Potato and Parsnip Gratin
- Clay Pot Curried Winter Vegetable Stew
Mashed Parsnips with Roasted Leeks and NutmegRoasted Winter Vegetables with Basil OilTurnip, Potato and Parsnip GratinClay Pot Curried Winter Vegetable Stew
There was a time when asparagus wasn’t available in December, lettuce in January and zucchini in February. It was a time – and this is most of recorded history in temperate climates – when people had to stock up on the earth toned vegetables of fall to last them through the winter. No greens, few reds, but a lot of whites, browns, yellows and oranges.
These are root vegetables for which a special place was made: the root cellar. We’ll talk another time about other root vegetables – potatoes, onions and the like – but this space is reserved for those hard-core root vegetables that aren’t quite as glamorous – turnips, rutabagas and parsnips.
Root vegetables are often referred to as lowly, more of an indication of their status than of their location. When someone questions your intelligence, the appropriate response might be, “Hey man, I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck.” And then there are the stories of families so destitute they are reduced to eating turnips.
James Beard said that parsnips were one of our “most neglected” vegetables, though he personally loved them and preferred them to sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving.
But root vegetables are experiencing a kind of renaissance. Not long ago, Joel Patraker, the Special Projects manager of the Greenmarkets in New York City was waxing poetically on the radio about rutabagas. And one of the signature dishes at the Union Square Cafe, one of New York City’s best restaurants, is creamy mashed turnips (they actually use rutabagas) with crispy shallots. Chef Michael Romano says he also likes to make parsnip pancakes as a side vegetable with roast venison.
So it looks like those subterranean Rodney Dangerfields are finally getting some respect. As the authors of the fine book “The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook,” Sally and Martin Stone, put it “…we forget that the most expensive, glamorous, exotic, rare and idealized foodstuff of all, the truffle, is truly a buried treasure.” Treasure, indeed. I hope this article on root vegetables is the shovel to help you dig up your own.
HISTORY OF ROOT VEGETABLES
Before there was agriculture, there was the turnip. That’s how old the turnip is. Turnips were cultivated some 5,000 years ago and may have been eaten as long as 5,000 years before that. Turnips were as important to the Romans as potatoes were to the Incas. But while turnips are still used often in Europe, one would hardly call them important today.
The history of the rutabaga is much shorter. In the early part of the 17th century, Swiss botanist Casper Bauhin crossed a cabbage with a turnip and got a rutabaga, sometimes called a yellow turnip. It became popular in northern Europe and, in fact, derives its name from the Swedish rotabagge. (Rutabagas are sometimes called swedes.) But the rutabaga hasn’t yet found similar success in the United States. Nor is it universally liked in Europe. The French, for example think the rutabaga is not much better than animal feed.
Regardless of where the parsnip originated – there are estimates from the Eastern Mediterranean to Northern Europe to Asia – it became a popular vegetable with ancient Greeks and Romans, the latter often preferring them for dessert with honey and fruit. The popularity of parsnips spread to the rest of Europe and it remained a mainstay of the European table until the potato supplanted it in the 18th century. Parsnips came to America with English colonials but never reached the kind of widespread appeal it once achieved in Europe.
WHERE ROOT VEGETABLES ARE GROWN
The major turnip and rutabaga producing states are California, Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Washington. A significant amount of both is imported from Canada. Parsnips are also grown in Canada as well as in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
VARIETIES OF ROOT VEGETABLES
Both rutabagas and turnips are members of the mustard family. All turnips have a snowy white flesh. The differences in varieties mostly involve outside coloring and size. Some have reddish rings around the crown of the vegetable, others purple. Flavors are essentially the same although larger turnips (3 or more inches in diameter) which appear later in the winter tend to be more pungent than the smaller (11/2 to 2 inches) turnips that appear earlier in the season. Major turnip varieties include Purple top, White Globe, White Egg, Golden Ball, Amber and Yellow Amberdeen.
Instead of white flesh, rutabagas have a yellow-orange flesh that, like yellow-flesh potatoes, give an impression of richness or butteriness. They’re also sweeter and denser than turnips with less moisture. On the outside rutabagas are half yellow-orange, while the other half is burgundy or purple. To increase their shelf life, most rutabagas are waxed. Commercially available rutabagas tend to be larger than turnips. The three main rutabaga varieties are American Purple Top, Laurentian and the Thomson Strain of the Laurentian.
It’s no coincidence that the parsnip resembles a carrot that has seen a ghost. The pale yellow parsnip and the carrot are in the same family. Parsnips, however, are more irregular in shape though they generally follow the same carrot tapered look with lengths varying from 5 to 10 inches. Some have likened them to sweet potatoes, but I think parsnips have a taste all their own, somewhat starchy like a potato, sweet like a carrot and a little nutty as well.
Turnips and rutabagas are available year round with peak supplies from October through March. Parsnips generally run from fall (usually after the first frost) into spring.
SELECTION, HANDLING & STORAGE OF ROOT VEGETABLES
Turnips: Select small to medium turnips that are heavy for their size (indicating good moisture content), with good color and firmness and no bruises, soft spots or shriveling. The stem end may be somewhat flattened. Winter turnips may be larger with tougher skin, so choose carefully during that time of the year. If greens are attached, they should be bright and fresh looking. Turnip greens are nutritious and delicious. Remove them immediately if they come attached to the turnips and store them separately in plastic bags. They’ll last 3 or 4 days.
Rutabagas: Rutabagas should be medium-size, about 4 to 5 inches across, because exceptionally large ones can be a bit much to handle. And they should be heavy for their size. Lighter ones may be woody. The wax on the surface of some is merely applied to prolong shelf life.
Turnips and rutabagas like cold (as low as 32 degrees) and moist surroundings. In plastic bags in the refrigerator, turnips will last as long as 2 weeks. If waxed, rutabagas need not be in plastic. They’ll last even longer, up to 2 months under proper conditions.
Parsnips: Choose parsnips that are firm with a good creamy color and no spots, blemishes, cuts or cracks. They should have a good, uniform shape (about 4 to 5 inches long) and should not be limp or shriveled. Avoid those that are particularly large since they may be woody, and those that are particularly small since they are not as economical and require more preparation time. Parsnips like cool temperatures. Store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator and they’ll last up to 2 weeks.
HOW NUTRITIOUS ARE ROOT VEGETABLES
A 3.5 ounce serving (100 grams) of turnips has 30 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram each of protein and dietary fiber, 60% of the Daily Values (formerly the RDA) for vitamin C, 2% for iron and 3% for calcium. Turnips are also a fair source of potassium and folic acid.
A 100 gram serving of rutabagas contains 46 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram each of dietary fiber and protein, 11% of the DV for vitamin A, 43% for vitamin C, 6% for calcium and a small amount of iron. Rutabagas are also a decent source of potassium and folic acid.
The good news is that because turnips and rutabagas are in the same family as cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, they have many of the same health benefits, particularly as cancer fighters. The bad news is that like other cruciferous vegetables, they too produce a fair amount of gas.
A serving of parsnips ( 100 grams, 3.5 ounces) contains 76 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, .5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 26% of the DV for vitamin C, 5% each for calcium and iron. Parsnips are a good source of potassium.
A pound of parsnips (about 4 medium) will yield about 2 cups, peeled and chopped. A pound of turnips will yield about 21/2 cups chopped. Rutabaga yields will be a little less because of the waste from waxing.
HOW TO PREPARE ROOT VEGETABLES
Turnips are normally peeled before being used, but if the turnips are small and young and the skin is thin, treat them like a potato and roast them unpeeled after a good scrub.
In other ways you can treat turnips like potatoes. For example, quarter, then roast or steam them. Or boil and mash them. Rutabagas likewise, except I think they are superior to turnips mashed. But before any cooking you’ll need a sturdy vegetable peeler (like the ones with fat handles) to get through the wax and skin of rutabagas.
Seasonings for turnips include garlic, parsley, and dill. For rutabagas, seasonings lean more toward those used for sweet potatoes – nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and mace.
Parsnips are usually peeled, unless you get your hands on a particularly pristine organic bunch. Although James Beard said he rarely peeled parsnips, preferring just to scrub them before cooking. Parsnips roast well accompanied by carrots and perhaps turnips and rutabagas. They puree marvelously with potatoes or other root vegetables. Steaming and microwaving are also good ideas. And don’t overlook the possibility of sautéing small chunks, slices or julienne strips of parsnips.
Carrot seasonings are appropriate for parsnips. That means nutmeg, parsley, dill, and orange flavoring. Roasted garlic turned nutty and sweet is also a good seasoning.
MASHED PARSNIPS WITH ROASTED LEEKS AND NUTMEG
Root vegetables mash nicely by themselves or in combination with other root vegetables. Try them instead of the usual mashed potatoes.
- 1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- Olive oil spray
- 1 large or 2 small leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise and washed thoroughly
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup skim milk, warmed
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1) Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put parsnips and potatoes in large saucepan, cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil gently, about 12 minutes, or until very tender.
2) Meanwhile, spray a cast iron frying pan with olive oil spray. Halve leeks again, crosswise, if using only one large one. Add to pan and put in the oven. Cook about 15 minutes until nicely browned all over. Turn a few times to cook evenly. Remove, chop and set aside.
3) When parsnips and potatoes are cooked, drain well and return to the pan over low heat. Mash, adding milk as you do. Add just enough milk to give the texture you prefer – and leave a few lumps if you like. Fold in leeks and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6.
ROASTED WINTER VEGETABLES WITH BASIL OIL
This dish is so substantial it could be the main part of the meal. Feel free to substitute with other winter vegetables.
- 3 medium red-skinned potatoes, washed but unpeeled
- 3 small turnips, peeled
- 3 medium parsnips, peeled
- 3 medium carrots, peeled
- 1-1/2-pound butternut or other winter squash, peeled and seeded
- 8 to 10 small onions, peeled
- 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons basil oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil spray
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried (omit if using basil oil)
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut potatoes, turnips, parsnips and squash into 11/4 to 11/2-inch square chunks. Cut carrots into-11/2-inch lengths. Mix stock with half the oil and half the salt and pepper. In a large mixing bowl, pour mixture over vegetables and toss.
2) Put all vegetables except squash in a large roasting pan greased with olive oil spray. Roast 15 minutes. Add squash and cook 30 to 35 minutes longer, stirring a few times, until nicely browned and easily pierced with a fork. Toss with remaining oil, salt and pepper. Serves 4.
Sam’s Cooking Tip: One of the great ways to get intense basil flavor when fresh basil isn’t in season is to use basil oil. (Yes, fresh basil is often available year round these days. But winter basil doesn’t have the intensity of flavor that summer basil has.) I like the one made by Consorzio best, but Loriva also makes a credible one. If you use either, eliminate the dried or fresh basil
TURNIP POTATO AND PARSNIP GRATIN
Gratins, like mashed potatoes, can be vehicles for lots of fat. But this one uses defatted chicken stock, skim milk and a minimum of butter.
- Butter flavored spray
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup defatted chicken stock
- 1-1/2 cups skim milk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 pound turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 medium leeks, white only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1) Preheat oven to 350. Spray gratin dish with butter-flavor spray and set aside.
2) Heat butter in a saucepan until the foam subsides. Add flour and whisk a few minutes. Add stock and stir vigorously until well incorporated. Add milk and whisk until mixture returns to a boil. Simmer a few minutes. It should have the consistency of a thin white sauce. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
3) Arrange half the turnips on the bottom of the gratin dish. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the leeks. Add parsnip slices. Then 1/3 more leeks. Then potatoes and remaining leeks and turnips, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper.
4) Pour sauce over, cover and bake 30 minutes. Mix cheese, bread crumbs and parsley. Sprinkle on top and bake 30 minutes more uncovered. Serves 8.
CLAY POT CURRIED WINTER VEGETABLE STEW
Curry is a blend of spices made into a convenient single yellow powder by the British during their occupation of India. Most Indians would make their own blend, as you can too for this dish, if you have the time and inclination.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground, toasted cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 16-ounce can tomatoes, seeded and chopped, with juice
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 medium parsnips, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 medium to large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 pound wedge winter squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 bulb fennel, trimmed, and cut into sixths, lengthwise
- 1 pound can chick peas, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or parsley, for garnish
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
1) Soak the clay pot in cold water 15 minutes. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté onion until it just starts to turn color. Add garlic, curry, cumin and cayenne and cook a few minutes, stirring, so that garlic does not burn. Add tomatoes, stock and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss vegetables with salt and pepper. Fold in chick peas and put in the clay pot. Pour stock mixture over. Put in a cold oven and turn the heat to 450 degrees.
3) Bake, covered, 1 hour or until all vegetables are tender. Garnish with parsley and sesame seeds and serve in soup plates with good, country bread or over couscous or basmati rice. Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side dish.
Sam’s Cooking Tip: The clay pot is a great way to seal in juices for roasts, stews and any number of braised meats or vegetables – you can even make an apple pie in it. The three most important things to remember when using a clay pot are: 1) soak it before you use it, 2) put it in a cold oven, and 3) make sure the cover is always secure.
I fell in love with leeks last year when using them in a Tuscan bread soup. In combination with fragrant ginger, fresh tomatoes, and pane toscano, I realized the great potential of the often overlooked leek. In season October through May, this mellow vegetable reaches its peak in January. Leeks are closely related to onions, shallots, and scallions, most resembling the latter—though much larger, typically twelve inches in length and around two inches in diameter.
Leek recipes, tips, and info, after the jump.
Leeks are commonly divided by harvest seasons—summer and winter. Summer leeks are generally smaller than winter leeks, which are more strongly flavored. The most popular varieties of winter leeks are King Richard and Tadorna Blue.
When choosing leeks at the market, look for firm, straight, dark green leaves and white necks. Avoid yellowed or wilted leaves and cracked or bruised bulbs. Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator where they will keep fresh for between one or two weeks. Try wrapping them loosely in a plastic bag to help them retain moisture, or store them in the freezer for up to three months. Cooked leeks are very perishable and will only stay fresh for about two days.
Leeks are the perfect ingredient for winter soups and pastas. Check out the compilation of recipes below and take full advantage of leeks this season.
- Potato Leek Au Gratin
- Pumpkin and Leek Soup
- Potato Crusted Sausage, Leek and Spinach Quiche
- Keftes De Prasa, the Sephardic-Style Leek Fritters
- Drunken Angel Hair with Leeks and Cream
- Leek and Cheese Pie
- Slow-Cooked Leek Soldiers with Bacon
- Leeks with Asian Vinaigrette
- Tagliatelle with Artichokes, Leeks, and Lemon
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Leeks are in season. We have recipes
What’s in season: At first glance, leeks probably look a bit like green onions on steroids, with bunches of two or three bundled together with a rubber band or a twine bow. A member of the allium family, leeks are closely related to onions, garlic, shallots and, yes, green onions. Leeks are prized for imparting subtle but fragrant notes to a variety of dishes, and they’ve been popular since ancient times (the Roman Emperor Nero supposedly ate them to improve his singing voice). While leeks can be found year-round, they’re a classic spring vegetable, available in markets from late winter through early summer.
14 of our favorite recipes featuring leeks >>
What to cook: Leeks need a good cleaning before using, as dirt often gets stuck between the layers of leaves as they grow. With the root still intact, halve the leeks lengthwise, running the plant under cool water to wash away any bits of dirt or sand. Slice or chop the tender portion (the white and light green parts), sautéing or slowly sweating them to soften and mellow their flavor. Add leeks to stews or ragouts, or get creative, incorporating the vegetable in a savory panna cotta, or thinly sliced and fried for a crunchy garnish. Save the tough outer green parts to infuse flavor in stocks and broths.
What’s on the horizon: New potatoes are showing up, Murray Family Farms is selling the first cherries of the season, “Royal K”, this week at select markets.
Recipes ready in 30 minutes or less
Get outdoors: Easy weeknight grilling recipes
Browse our Recipe Database for thousands of our best recipes
Harvest leeks when they are big enough to use. Most leeks mature 100 to 120 days after sowing seed, but a few varieties mature in as few as 60 days.
Some varieties mature at ½ to ¾ inches in diameter; others can grow to 1 inch (2.5 cm) or more in diameter.
When to Harvest Leeks
- A leek is ready for harvest when its white stem or shaft is 3 inches (7 cm) long or greater.
- Harvest leeks before they start to widen too much at the base; don’t allow leeks to form bulbs.
- The top growth of a leek—called the flag—should be dark blue-green at harvest. Unlike onions and shallots, leek tops do not die back as the plant matures.
- Leeks can be harvested from late summer to early spring depending upon the variety and climate. In milder winter climates, leeks can be overwintered in the garden for spring harvest.
- Some varieties such as ‘Winter Giant’ and ‘Tadorna Blue’ are bred for overwintering. Temperatures as low as 20°F (-6°C) will not harm these varieties. If you leave leeks in the ground for winter harvest, hill up the soil around the plants and cover them with a heavy layer of mulch until you need them.
- Non-hardy leeks ready in 60 to 90 days will be milder flavored than long-growing, hardy varieties. Harvest non-hardy varieties in the summer and fall before the first frost.
A leek is ready for harvest when its white stem or shaft is 3 inches long or greater.
How to Harvest Leeks
- Digging leeks is easier than pulling. Leeks have a large root system.
- Use a hand fork or garden fork to loosen the soil before lifting leeks.
- Where the soil is loose, you can harvest leeks by hand by gently twisting and pulling them from the soil.
Leeks will keep in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days.
How to Store Leeks
- Give harvested leeks a shake and brush off as much soil as possible then rinse the plant thoroughly.
- Leeks are the most flavorful used fresh.
- Store leeks wrapped in a damp paper towel in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. Smaller leeks store better than larger leeks. Trim the roots and wash the leaves and stem before refrigerating.
- Leeks store best at 32°F (0°C) and 95 to 100 percent relative humidity. Yellowing and decay develop rapidly at warmer storage temperatures. High relative humidity is essential to prevent wilting.
- Trim the leaves and slice leeks in half lengthwise immediately before use and rinse out any remaining soil that is often caught between the tight leaves.
More tips: How to Grow Leeks.