Experimental Homestead

Leeks, Size Does Matter!… and so does shape.

See also, How To Grow Big Ass Leeks!



So I heard that in Wales they have these leek growing contests to see which dude can grow the biggest leek.  I wish they had those contests here, ’cause my leeks are hung like horses.  People ask me- “Steven, how do you grow your leeks so big?”.  Following is my take on the vegetable known as the leek and how I now grow them.

Margaret of the leeks….

First off, there are lot’s of leek varieties out there.  There seem to be two basic classifications of leeks, tall and short.  Not all the tall leeks are skinny and not all the short leeks are fat, but it seems to tend that way as if the plant had only so much to grow and was guided either out or up.  I used to grow the short kind as they are much more common and there was this whole thing about how you are supposed to dig a trench (which I did) and bury manure in the bottom (which I did) and then as the plants grow fill in around them with the dirt from the trench (which I did) and then maybe put some toilet paper tubes around them to help keep the dirt out (which I tried).  Using this method you are supposed to eventually harvest a long blanched leek from deep in the earth carrying little or no dirt in the leaves.  I was disappointed in the results.  For one thing, if there is any dirt down in the leek then you still have to wash it out and it’s pretty hard not to get any in a short leek.  The toilet paper tube thing seemed pretty useless.  Secondly, the whole trench preparation and filling in thing is a pain in the ass.

Enter the tall leek!  This astounding innovation was clearly borne of some intelligent culture which must have preferred length over girth.  A family member gave me the first tall leek seeds which she had saved from an unknown variety.  The advantages were immediately clear.  When you bring a tall leek in from the garden for dismemberment all that is necessary to use the vegetable immediately is to cut off the bottom plate with roots, peel off a few outside leaves and cut off a short portion of the top.  Very little dirt makes it into the tops of the leaves since the plants are so tall, and there is plenty of dirt free stem to use before reaching that section.  Because we grow only the tall type here, we rarely end up washing leeks at all.  In the tallest varieties, I’ve gotten up to and over 24 inches of clear clean stem by stripping off a few leaves and lopping off the top and bottom.  But wait, there’s more!  The tall varieties grow sheathed in their own self blanching casement of old leaves so there is no reason to plant them deep which means no more trenching and in-filling.  Just why the short varieties still dominate in popularity is not entirely clear to me, but I’m thinking that there might be a few reasons.  For one thing, I think the shorties might be more cold hardy.  That is definitely a concern and one which I will address further along here.  Another is that the short types tend to look pretty and tidy on the shelf.  The tall leeks are often lanky and whippy at the top while the short flag types tend to have stiffer more shapely leaves arranged in a nice flat fan.  Also, there is cultural preference.  If these folks over here have always grown leeks and the pictures of leeks on their altars of leek worship and their statues of statesmen and cultural heroes holding leeks all show stubby flaggy specimens then I guess the notion and form of a “proper” leek is pretty well set then isn’t it!?

Cleaned leeks shafts. Each of these represents about 30 to 40 seconds of preparation from ground to cutting board using a sharpish butter knife.  They are 22″ and 26″ respectively of completely dirt free food. A stark contrast to cleaning the inevitable dirt from short growing leeks.

I began to order every allegedly tall leek variety I could ferret out in the seed catalogs.  My own preferential method for growing leeks, dictated by the local climate, has been to start early, plant early and over winter them in the ground eating them through march.  This plan works here with almost any variety since the climate is very mild the temperature not usually dropping below 20 and generally pretty well above that.  I have had some leeks suffer tissue freezing damage when it has gotten very cold, but only a small percentage of the plants have to suffered so far.  I’ve also had the plants wilt and fall over a bit when the soil freezes.  This temporarily happens to many plant species that are actually quite hardy because with frozen roots they can’t take up and move water around their vascular system.  The leeks recover Ok, but when they are in the floppy state they don’t stay upright and never re-straighten.  Since I only save seed from plants that are healthy and shapely at the end of the winter, I’m selecting for strains that can endure these conditions.  Adaptation to local conditions and personal gardening styles is one of the many benefits of saving your own seed.  In trialing varieties I pretty much selected for length, but at the same time I was selecting for girth as well since the proportion between length and girth can only stretch out so far before the plants start falling over.  The winner was Bulgarian Giant, a leek that is especially tall while still being capable of achieving an impressive diameter.  The last year I did variety trials we taste tested 3 or 4 leeks and were happy to find that the Bulgarian giant also tasted the best.  I have not however done extensive comparative taste testing, so there may be a much better tasting leek out there.  Still, taste isn’t everything and the cultural advantages and even the novelty of the impressive size does count for something then doesn’t it?
I just transplanted the third generation of my saved seed in an ongoing attempt to refine Bulgarian giant into a handsome monster adapted to local conditions and possessed of both size and girth.  From the looks of this years best 8 leeks I think it might be working.  Seed growers grow large amounts of plants to save seed from, but they are growing seed for money, so how thoroughly can they cull out the plants to refine the gene pool?  I probably planted 125 or more leeks this year and selected only 8 for seed and only a few of those are really completely exemplary.  I’m ideally selecting for height, straightness, girth and a good casement of leaves that gathers abruptly at the top to hold it all together.

This bulgarian Giant may be a long way from home, but it seems to have adapted well enough. Note how the dead leaves come up and form a case with a somewhat abrupt stop near the top. Not all tall varieties seem to do this equally.  The tie is to mark it as a seed leek so that no one will inadvertently eat it.

So here is the cycle.

Plant leeks in a flat by sprinkling the seeds on the surface and sifting 1/2 inch of soil over them.  Start as early as January in the greenhouse or a sunny window- no later than mid February.  Do not direct seed.  Seeding in a flat allows planting of the biggest seedlings only, the first step in seed selection.  I know since I one year planted the tallest seedlings on one end of a bed and planted successively shorter ones as I went along.  They more or less retained those proportions as the season progressed.

Plant out in the ground on about 8 inch centers.  I don’t currently dig my garden beds, so I just stab a trowel into the ground, pull the soil to the side, set the leek in and push the soil back.  I do tend to trim the roots shorter so that they are easier to plant.  You don’t want the roots to curl up in the hole and end up pointing upward (known as J rooting a plant).

Fertilize from the top with whatever.  I usually use urine when they are young, and quite a bit of it.  Diluted 50/50 urine is hard to beat as leek fertilizer since it is a little imbalanced toward nitrogen.  Leeks can take a lot of nitrogen and seem to thrive on it.  When the plants start getting bigger, to where I’m starting to think about eating them, I don’t want to be pouring pee down into the leaves, so I just start to top dress with whatever I’ve got, compost, seaweed, grass clippings and other weed free green stuff.  As I harvest the leeks I peel off the outside leaves and drop them on the bed.  Also, if I have a handful of ratty leaves pulled off some greens plants I’ll drop those on too.  The mulching effect of all this is also very helpful in conserving moisture and keeping the soil cool and friable.  The plants will be there for a long time and if a good mulch of stuff is maintained there will be some compost left on the soil for the next crop when the leeks are finally cleared off.  Resist the temptation to peel off the dead leaves as they form a “case” that holds the leek together and keeps it upright and blanched inside.  Trimming the dead hanging leaves short is fine, just don’t peel them off the stem.

Leeks prefer a cooler climate.  During the summer, they aren’t at their best, but they still make Ok eating.  I start to cull out the small ones for eating as soon as they are big enough to bother with.  I suppose if I lived in a hotter climate I might resort to growing them under a light shade cloth to see if that would make them happier, but I prefer to not pamper plants if I don’t really have to.  Water though is really essential to growing decent leeks.  Maybe not any more than most plants, but enough.  When the weather really cools off and rain brings abundant unwavering moisture to the leek bed they really begin to thrive.  The plants will gain in size through the entire winter and quality will improve noticeably by late fall.  the leek truly is a winter vegetable or one for cool damp climates.

We harvest the leeks that are small, short, bent or otherwise undesirable in order of their greatest undesirableness.  At the end of the season I’m left with the biggest tallest and most nicely formed from which I select the seed plants.  These “winners” are dug up with a good wad of soil and moved to the end of a bed somewhere to finish out the cycle which takes until fall when the seeds are finally ripe.  The flowers are pretty enough and pollinating bugs like them.  The plants need some support while growing to seed or they will fall over.  They also sometimes need a helping hand for the seed heads to come out of the top of the plant as it can get all tangled up in the lanky, floppy leaves.

A support made with 4 stakes and a little string will keep these seed leeks from falling over during the long flowering and seed setting process.

Following this cycle I get to eat leeks most of the year.  I have the satisfaction of planting my own seed which is also one more step toward being in control of my own food supply.  I have extras seed to trade and give away.  I don’t have to buy seed, and I have more control and influence on the form of my vegetables by more careful selection than is likely engaged in by large seed farms.

When it comes to leeks size does matter and so does form.  In this household, come winter the mild leek is a vegetable rather than a condiment.  With this attitude in place a leek can hardly be too big.  With Bulgarian Giant and similar leeks (let me know if you’re growing something great) you can impress yourself as well as your friends and neighbors, clobber intruders, win prizes at the county fair and enjoy great leeks most of the year.  In terms of yield/space/work ratio they are a great source of food and according to Ecology Action, even of calories.  The leek is an under appreciated and under grown vegetable in America, but unjustly so as it is usually easy to grow and, if tall varieties are grown, easy to use.  Soon I hope to begin breeding my own leek variety the funnest part of which will be naming it, so in about 6 to 10 years look for Edholm’s Big one, Purple Stallion, Redwood, Clobberer, Takea leek or something equally poetic or silly.

As to how to use leeks there are plenty of recipes out there.  You can generally use them as you use onions though they often benefit from longer cooking and are mild so you can often use more.  Some recipes and cooking notes are likely to follow eventually.

This animal is not impressed with my leeks.  In fact, it looks more annoyed than anything.

UPDATE: 12/19/2011  I was sadly unable to save seeds from the beautiful massive leeks in the pictures above because of a vicious attack of the rust.  Ever since it has been plaguing my leeks.  I’ve often had significant rust on my various onions, but never like this.  I could try employing various home remedies such as spraying with vinegar, but pampering plants through a long season with continual maintenance is not really my style.  I don’t know if the problem is due to the Bulgarian Giant’s being particularly susceptible, or if it is just the climate coupled with a really long growing season which allows the rust to gain a firm foot hold.  If it is that the variety is particularly susceptible, this may prove to be a deal killer :(  If anyone out there has experience with varietal susceptibility to rust in leeks, please drop some knowledge on us poor victims.  If I can find a resistant variety, maybe I can cross some resistant genes into it… stainless?

March 25, 2010 - Posted by | Garden Stuff | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. HOLY CRAP those are some AWESOME LEEKS!!!!

    You’re just rubbing it in because I didn’t grow any last year. I was doing OK until February, then I really missed them. Today I… well… how to say this… oh hell, out with it: I bought leeks at the grocery store. There, I’ve said it. Okay, now I’m totally starting leek seed tomorrow.

    Comment by Tim | March 25, 2010 | Reply

    • Dude, that bites. I hate buying leeks especially being as they are so easy to grow most of the year. When I first moved up here we didn’t have anything the first winter and I remember having a really hard time putting some small wilty leeks with dirt in the leaves into my shopping cart. Actually, I hate buying vegetables period, though have to occasionally still.

      Comment by turkeysong | March 28, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi Steven,
    Great work here! I love leeks too, tho I have generally planted the short fat ones because of overwintering potentiallity as it gets kinda cold here. But I want to give these a try. We generally classiffy leeks as summer (long ones) or fall (short) Summer leeks grow faster but don’t overwinter as well. A friend bred a cross between the two types that I offer seed of called King Seig ( a cross of King Richard and Seigfried). My main reason for writing is a heads up as a plant breeder that to maintain genetic diversity in a population of outcrossers (like leeks) you really need to save seed from at least 100 plants
    or they will become bottlenecked genetically and will lose desirable characteristics in succeeding generations.
    I usually start with at least 200 plants on something like leeks that I might lose some over the winter and still have a good population.
    Happy spring to you,
    Don Tipping, Seven Seeds Farm/ Siskiyou Seeds in Williams, OR

    Comment by don tipping | March 26, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback. I seem to do Ok with the long leeks through winters and have gardened at 2000 and 1800 feet down here in Mendo for close to 10 years. Both sites get occasional snow and hard freezes, but rarely to 20 and probably not much lower. Like I said, part of the experiment is to see if they adapt by simply culling out the ones that don’t do well. I suspect that Bulgarian Giant might not overwinter too well in a colder climate as far as overwintering.

      As far as the number of plants and the outcrossing, do you mean by outcrosser any plant that does cross pollinate or only plants that are self sterile and have to cross out? Either way, it is understandable that with crops where you save the seed as food (grains, dry peas and beans) and large amounts are grown that saving large quantities would be desirable and useful.. and well, easy. Then again on crops like leeks, beets, carrots and basically most vegetables saving 100 plants of anything is outside the realm of practicality for home scale gardeners. It’s impossible for me to believe that the great diversity of heirloom plants handed down by generations of country gardeners and even small farmers were saving even close to this many plants…. if for no other reason than economics. 100 beets, leeks, carrots etc.. is a lot of food/stockfeed/product to let go on to seed, especially when you only need a handful of seeds. No doubt in theory and maybe even practice saving so many plants is a good idea and certainly for a producer like you it makes lot’s of sense, but necessary? Also, I’m at this point essentially refining this variety because the seed I got is wildly variable from long skinny to short and fat. Maybe it has outcrossed with other varieties or just been grown a long time without selection. I realize the potential for greater plant survival and adaptation of the variety with less uniformity and greater genetic diversity, but then the extreme of that would be to throw the whole lot together (all varieties) and have at it. Neither of which dovetails with my goals. I haven’t delved into seed saving theory that much, so I welcome your thoughts. I did read some of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe (http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/361) and was surprised at how few plants she selected out for creating a new variety… if I remember right, as few as one! That kind of changed the way I saw it. The other source I recall said save at least 6 plants.

      Your site looks really interesting. I downloaded the catalogue and will check it out. I use Fedco a lot because they are so hip and have great prices, but more localized seed is an idea whose time has passed and is overdue to come again. Just FYI, Varieties I have become particularly fond of are Sigaretta di Bergamo pepperoncini (which needs an easier English name IMO), tuchon carrot and Hailstone Radish. I also love Esmaralda lettuce for both taste and remarkable cultural consistency for a head lettuce under occasionally trying conditions. I’ve trialed quite a few butterheads to come to that conclusion. It just performs almost every time even in our hot dry summers. Fedco dropped Esmaralda because the seed producer was bought by monster monsanto. I don’t know if they own the patent or just produce the seed.

      I can send you some seed for Bulgarian giant. I have a packet of commercial seed that I don’t need and I’d be glad to send you some of my bucktoothed, inbred genepool as well I’d love to see a comparison if you grow out both. I’ll throw in some tuchon and hailstone too, just so you can try them, but they are probably bucktoothed too:)=

      Comment by turkeysong | March 28, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hello, I’m a keen gardener in West Wales (Ceredigion) who hasn’t ever been able to get leeks to work to my satisfaction. I grew Bulgarian Giant this year and got nothing even vaguely resembling your astonishing leeks shown above. Is there any way that you might be able to send seeds to the UK? I’m sure there are certain legal restrictions with that sort of stuff but, in the the name of science and leeky goodness, I must grow these things. If I grew something even half the size of these I would be happy. Bravo!

    Comment by Badman-King | October 9, 2011 | Reply

    • I’m not sure bulgarian giant will be hardy enough for you there in Wales. You could try though. The seed I get is from a European seed company imported into the U.S. I believe it is English, but I’ll try to find out for you. I think the deal is that the shorter more fan shaped leeks are the hardy ones and probably the type you would find over there. Of course you could cross them with whatever you have and see what happens. I mean hardy is hardy. You can plant a bunch of stuff and select the ones that survive. Even in my mild climate some of the Bulgarian Giants don’t do so well with the cold, but I only save seed from the ones that make it through winter in top condition. You could also grow under a little bit of protection. It takes all summer and all winter for them to get that big here. As for sending seeds, I would hate to break the law, but I would also hate for a welsh gardener to have small leeks! Thats just wrong!

      Comment by turkeysong | October 10, 2011 | Reply

  4. Could you let us know what growing zone you are in? Want to know if I can expect similar results from my zone 6b garden in Long Island, NY….bought the Bulgarian Giant seed and very excited, but curious how it will fair in the winter here. Wish I had tried it this year because our winter was really mild….Thanks for all the advice. I read that you placed fresh manure around the plants. Wanted to know if this burned them at all or if I should be careful about it. Also, have been reading about urine fertilizing as you wrote about. Incredible source of free fertilizer and want to try that as well. Will use a 50/50 spray for my seedlings. THANKS !

    Comment by rachel | February 12, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Rachel! I don’t actually know what zone I am in, but I’m on the California Coast, so its pretty mild. These leeks are not very hardy and I’ve gathered now that leeks of this tall type are not generally at least, very hardy and one should probably choose known hardy flag types to overwinter in colder areas. I rarely see temps below 20 degrees F. Even at that, some of the leeks will be damaged. This year I had more impact on the leeks from cold weather than I’ve ever seen although it did not seem particularly colder. They will typically sag after a cold night, though they seem fine afterwards. I have always chosen for seed saving the ones which remain upright and seem unaffected by the cold, so I’m hoping to improve their cold resistance over some generations. In cold areas I’ve also gathered that this type of leek is grown through summer and used as a summer and autumn leek. however, they are more cold hardy than lettuce in my experience and if you can give them some protection they will probably make it through the winter. I think the trick to growing them very large is a long season, so you might consider some season extenders. Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season Harvest has great simple ideas for season extension using simple hoop houses and such. He also has a new book the Winter Harvest Handbook which I haven’t read, but knowing his stuff, it’s probably great. They can grow to a decent size by fall if taken care of well, but I’m always impressed the way the grow much larger through the winter unlike many other crops which are hardy enough but slow to a snails pace once it really cools off.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever burned a leek plant. They can really take the nitrogen, so pump them up. A 50/50 spray is probably fine on seedlings used in moderation. Its probably beneficial to get some on the leaves too for foliar feeding If you have a good homemade flat mix they shouldn’t need much help as seedlings though. I use 2/3rds old flat mix with 1/3 new sifted compost and I usually add some coffee grounds and lime which feeds most plants quite well until they are transplanting size. After they are in the ground though, especially given the long growing period, they really seem to benefit from fairly regular fertilization, especially if you rely on soluble fertilizer such as urine. I try to hit them up once a month or so. I do top dress them with whatever I have as well such as coffee grounds, manures, seaweed etc…

      Comment by turkeysong | February 12, 2012 | Reply

    • Hello Steven– Thanks again for this article. So since I read this several years ago and wrote you, I have grown the ‘Bulgarian Giant’ variety several seasons. I LOVE it, but the only downside I have found and I think this may be the reason the tall varieties are not so readily available, is that they seem to take longer to grow than the traditional short leeks. Have you found this to be the case? and do you still favor this variety or others? Hope alls well. Thanks!

      Comment by Rachel Maris | February 19, 2017 | Reply

      • Hi Rachel. I haven’t grown it side by side with anything for so long I wouldn’t know. I still grow Bulgarian Giant. I might eventually get some other varieties to cross with it, but I’m happy enough not to go looking for anything new. I’m growing a new crop of seeds this season.

        Comment by Stevene | February 19, 2017

  5. Thanks so much for your reply. My seedlings seem to be doing well. Wanted to ask you–it has been 3 weeks now since I planted them and they still have the little black seed at the top of the seedling. They are a good size–maybe 6inches long. Should I cut them back slightly which will also remove the seed? I had read that this is a good thing to do with onion seedlings. I also have a bunch of onion seedlings and was wondering the same. Thoroughly appreciate your time and advice! Thanks!!

    Comment by rachel | February 17, 2012 | Reply

  6. Hey, I am a home grower from Wiltshire, UK. We seem to share many ideas in how we like to grow our food – no digging, low maintenance, using urine, seed saving…

    Really impressed with your leeks and the blog page makes excellent reading – nice one!

    I bloody love leeks and wanted to share a leek experience with you – the variety ‘Pancho’, the seed from Adaptive Seeds.

    Last year the leeks really took a back seat due to my attention being spent on other crops.

    Sowed in flats very late (sometime in May I think) and planted out when pencil-thick. Growing nicely then totally riddled with leek moth larvae by August. I had written them off but in October I noticed they were still growing. By mid-November the plants had completely shed all of their leek moth larva-infested leaves and looked very clean. They are still growing now, the biggest being almost an inch in diameter, and still looking clean and healthy.

    I was amazed at these plants’ ability to outgrow a leek moth attack so thought I’d share this with you in case it helps with your disease-resistance goals. They are also exceptionally beautiful plants with eating quality leaves almost to the tip, and tasty they are too. No sign of any disease or ill-health even after winter and pest attack, 100% beautiful leek to the core!

    Comment by Tommo | March 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Tommo: Nice to “meet” you. Thanks for sharing your experience with Pancho. We don’t have leek moths here and I hope it stays that way. I was interested in Meziers long winter leek from Real Seed as a possible parent for improving Bulgarian Giant because BG is not very cold hardy. Real Seed can’t ship to the U.S. though and I haven’t looked for a domestic supplier yet. I find that, here anyway, leeks real perk up and improve in health generally when it cools off and gets wet. The rust disappears for a while and they just look generally much happier.

      Comment by turkeysong | March 15, 2012 | Reply

      • Cool. I’d be happy to send you some Meziers seed, do you want it very soon or is it too late for you now? Maybe next year.

        Give me a shout if you want me to send you any leek moth too : )

        Comment by Tommo | March 16, 2012

  7. Two things to deal with the rust problem. Use a solution of one quarter cows milk to three quarters water as a foliar spray every other day at first sign of rust until it disappears. The rust can only survive in an acid environment. Secondly do not leave foliage on the ground to mulch this is where the disease is brobably building up.
    David Ellis

    Comment by David Ellis | March 15, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for the tips David. If I have to spray every other day I’ll probably be looking toward a more resistant variety. I have read that one can use vinegar and milk ferments to become more acidic, so maybe its that it can’t live in an acid environment. I’ll try to tidy up the patch this year and see what happens.

      Comment by turkeysong | March 15, 2012 | Reply

      • I heard that the calcium in the milk via the foliar feed (spray) boosts the plant’s immune system to thwart the disease. Works against quite a few fungi. Raw milk is best but if you have a choice use skimmed (fat free) milk or you may have stinky plants!

        Comment by Tommo | March 16, 2012

  8. Hey Turkeysong! great blog and those are some giant leeks bro! Well done to you on finding those and sending Reelseeds some of your seed stock, Ive just purchased these so thanks for your hard work (I appreciate a good leek freeze the tops as they give good colour to other dishes) I hope to get mine 1/2 that size of the ones in your photo! Do you know if these will cross with the giant “pot” leek (a short but very wide leek with a mild taste- said to be not unlike your Bulgarian) ???? All the best, Wes.

    Comment by Wesley Hayden | June 11, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Wes: Yes, it will cross with the Mammoth pot Leek. Actually, real seeds doesn’t have my seed stock, but I’m sure theirs is just great. Leeks aren’t really that hard, just have to keep up regular feeding and watering to get them big. A long season helps too, but you can cover if needed.

      Comment by turkeysong | June 11, 2012 | Reply

  9. sorry that should of read “mammoth pot leek” which is the name its sold under over here in the UK, thanks dude

    Comment by Wesley Hayden | June 11, 2012 | Reply

  10. The pot leek and the blanch leek aren’t grown from seed unless we want to grow a virus free strain.We grow from what we call grass.After a show we put the leek into a pot to grow the seed heads for the shows the year after next.In fact when the seeds turn black in there pods we shave the heads,the plant thinks it is dying so throws out secondary growth which we call grass.They are in fact leek seedlings.We take them off the heads in October and plant them up into small plant cells so if one has a disease it doesn’t spread to the others.After about six weeks they will be potted up into 8cm pots then every 6 weeks into bigger pots untill we plant at the end of April.They are grown in a heated greenhouse from October untill April.When i plant out i like my long leeks to be 4 inches round and my Pot leeks at least 8 inches round.The long leeks can get to 11 inches round and the pot leeks anything up to 20 inches round according which strain you grow.This is one of the most expensive hobbies i have ever done and is not for the faint hearted.I hope this helps you a little bit.Bob.

    Comment by bob | July 16, 2012 | Reply

    • Wow! You win! I think I’ll pass on competitive leek growing :) Interesting though on the vegetative propagation. I might try that just to keep superior stock going without repeated selection by seed. Thanks for sharing.

      Comment by Stevene | July 25, 2012 | Reply

  11. Thank you thank you thank you!! I have been online on and off for over a week trying to identify two plants that came up ‘voluntarily’ around a yellow rose bush after moving to a house last summer that was so severely overgrown that I spent 30+ days just pulling out dead bamboo and overgrown vines. We have uncovered all kinds of plants and heirloom varieties, but I confess that I had no idea what these were. I pulled them this morning, thinking it might be millet ..and smelled onion….so I ran in to search for confirmation of what I thought might be leek…and found your awesome pictures! Viola! What an informative article. These two leeks are well over my 5’4″ frame, and as the heat is simmering on the upswing here in GA, it seems cooking rather than replanting is the best idea. I am going to see if my husband will perform his magic and get the roots growing again, maybe in pots on the front porch which is heavily shaded all summer. This is an awesome blog, and I will be following! Blessings!

    Comment by Dancing Light | May 9, 2013 | Reply

    • I’m glad the post was of some help. Elephant garlic looks similar, but smells of garlic and forms cloves when mature. otherwise, it’s probably a leek. I remember when I lived in Atlanta for a bit there were wild leeks growing all over the place in abandoned lots and such. Some varieties also produce offshoots at the base which grow into new plants. They look like small cloves. Bulgarian giant rarely produces these bulblets, but some varieties produce them consistently. Generally with leeks and onions, if the base of the plant is saved and replanted it will continue to grow and either flower, or grow bulblets at the base. Try it.

      Comment by Stevene | May 9, 2013 | Reply

      • We are actually in Commerce, due East/NE of Atlanta about 1/2 mile from the old train station that used to stop to pick up the vegetable harvests to take to Atlanta back in the 30’s – 50’s.. The home we are in now was built in the 60’s in what was an agricultural/farming area. The dirt is rich black 3 feet down! It is our understanding that the first owner was a young widow who lived here over 30 years, and she adored gardening. We are seeing plants that we have only heard of before…old heirloom flowers and plants, thus some of the identification issues, even tho we are avid gardeners ourselves. We have pulled and replanted a LOT of small bulb plants that we found all over the place, growing with what seemed to be other flower varieties. With the last 13 years of neglect, the house was nearly ready to be condemned, and the gardens a mangle of trumpet vine and wisteria. So I guess you can say we are on a restoration mission. lololol Many things we have dug up look sort of like an onion, but have more of a round white, clove shaped bulb. I just finished digging up and replanting the rose bush…and all of the small green around these two very large leeks are more of the small white bulbs that we have been saving and planting. I had noticed the onion like smell, so had planted them in the garden although they are doing very poorly in direct sun. Thanks for mentioning that too! The ones that were mixed in/around patches of Irises that were moved to the front beds (we are using those as a nursery for now) are doing much better with a lot less sun. I just replanted the largest selection of the plants in a shaded corner of one of the beds…I doubt that these are the Bulgarian variety, but seem very large, so I will try to get some to come to seed. Honestly, with the quantity and the plants now identified, I don’t think that propagation is going to be an issue! We’ve got chives all over the place too. I like to look on these ‘found’ cash crops as just gifts from Mother Earth. ;) I

        Comment by Dancing Light | May 9, 2013

      • Neat, I’ll bet you have some nice narcissus in that mix. I grow potato onions (see other blog posts) and tree collards, two old timey Southern perennial crops. The potato onions need pulling and replanting, to perform well, but the tree collards just grow in place.

        Comment by Stevene | May 9, 2013

  12. I used to work security for a major big box chain, and I caught a guy stealing these. When questioned why, he said “I just had to take a leak!”

    Comment by greg | May 17, 2013 | Reply

  13. Great blog. You guys rock!
    I am selling Yorkshire giant young leek plants on eBay.co.uk.
    I don’t deliver abroad, but would make an exception cos u guys need this!!!
    Google Yorkshire giant pot leek world record….
    Happy growing

    Comment by Jason | October 28, 2013 | Reply

  14. Do you employ companion planting? Leeks love being next to carrots and celery…stuff like that. Neem oil is good for rust but since that might be too much effort maybe you could just plant a neem plant next to your leeks…

    Comment by kate | March 1, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks Kate. I don’t really practice companion planting. It makes sense, but it seems hard to sort out what really does and doesn’t make a difference. Usually it’s enough work to plan what goes where without worrying about yet another factor. I’ve had a lot less rust the last couple of years when planting my leeks later. actually I’ve had none at all. Maybe the rust spores begin the lifecycle early and I’m just completely missing that. I haven’t looked into it. I”m lazy :) I am interested in trying iodine as an antifungal spray… but I’m probably too lazy to do that too.

      Comment by Stevene | March 1, 2015 | Reply

      • Haha I feel ya! I’m lazy too. I have My first garden ever and all I do is water it! Can’t even be bothered to weed! That’s why companion planting is the best, you just chuck the friends together and they take care of themselves I’ve found! No disease or lost crops for me, maybe beginners luck hehe.
        But I’m glad no more rust, I did see its a rather old post! PS, you don’t sound that lazy with all your seed saving and stuff! :)

        Comment by kate | March 1, 2015

      • Well, I’m not reeeeally lazy in the big picture at all. But when it comes to gardening, I’m not much for pampering. Some people are slaves to their gardens. I prefer to no try to hard and end up with varieties that take care of themselves or simple strategies. It helps to accept a certain amount of losses too. Trying to have everything healthy and perfect and pest free all the time is just perfectionism, it’s not practical. It’s good to take care of stuff well enough, but there is a sweet spot in there somewhere at which you’re in between neurotically trying to give the plants everything they want and failing to produce any quality produce. Weeds are one thing that matters a lot though. competition is a major factor. I try to keep whatever I get planted weeded pretty well, but it doesn’t always happen as soon as it should…

        Comment by Stevene | March 1, 2015

  15. I’ve just found this blog. I’ve been growing Franchi Seeds ‘Gigante d’Hiver’ for a few years, typically growing 30cm/24in tall before the leaf sheaths form the leaves (the ‘shank’?). I grew too many in 2013 and covered the excess with insect repellent grade (i.e. the thinnest available) row cover in the fall just to see if they I could get some leeks for us in the spring. They made it with minimal losses and they were of a quality that allowed me to re-start selling them at the Farmers’ Market in May 2014. I am an ex-pat Brit living in Vermont so I know U.K. visitors to this blog will rarely experience these temperatures nor will you from your post about 20F. The winter of 2013-14 was the coldest for 25 years with night time temperatures below -25C/-10F frequently (almost as bad as the past winter we are struggling out of) and any harvest of leeks beyond what was useable in our kitchen was an unexpected bonus. The soil is a very sticky silt in a flood zone. Of course, we did have our usual snow pack of a few feet but I would wonder if any other mulch would produce the same results as I am convinced it is the wind chills that cause most damage to the foliage when the ground is frozen (established trees here are often covered with wood pyramids to prevent foliage damage). It is certainly a variety worth considering for trialling overwinter IMHO. Last year I sold out of leeks so I couldn’t repeat the process.

    Comment by JHM | April 8, 2015 | Reply

    • Great feedback JHM. Gigante d’Hiver like a real winner. I’ll check it out next year. The Bulgarian Giant stock I have is not that well refined. There is a lot of variability in there in size, length, and even color and texture. I think I may have narrowed it down a little in the generations of seeds I’ve saved, but it is still very inconsistent. What are your diameters like? I imagine it’s hard to get them super huge in a really cold winter like that, but I’m wondering what the size potential is in Gd’H. Macho leeksmanship aside, it’s really the length that makes them much more kitchen friendly, and long shanks with high leaf clasping as you describe has been a priority in my selections. Here, leeks aren’t really happy, at their best, and growing really large until the cold rainy season sets in. During the summer, unless given very high culture (and some shade would probably help, but I wouldn’t know) they are more or less just getting their feet under them and biding their time for the cool season. I think mine are probably at their best in February/March and into April.

      I picked up some seed last year from a guy in Bulgaria of a leek that is very likely the same as Bulgarian Giant. I’m planning to grow those and take the best of them and allow them to cross pollinate with my Bulgarian Giant seed stock. Thanks for sharing that valuable information. I’m not actually growing any leeks this year, but whenever I do again, I’ll definitely try out Gigante d’Hiver.

      Comment by Stevene | April 8, 2015 | Reply

  16. First I need to “pardon my French”, literally in this case. The variety is sold as Gigante d’Inverno, Winter Giant in Italian I understand. “Hiver” is French for winter. When I first started growing them I got Hiver lodged in my head and I can still meld languages it seems.
    As too the diameter; they can get quite thick, not as large as your photo of the single Bulgarian Giant but similar to the second picture here, certainly some that don’t let me get my fingers around two together. I grow mine in clumps of three, at triple usual spacing, as it makes weeding easier. This probably limits average girth but some still get quite large and some customers prefer smaller leeks so this is advantageous for me too. Growing huge leeks through the winter is not something I need to do as I sell them in bunches to meet customer expectations. Like you I don’t wish to ‘faff’ with individual plants and these require no hilling up either to get long, white shanks.
    I think the reason I sold out is that 1) the flavour is excellent and 2) as you mention, no splitting and ‘fanning’ of the shank under running water is needed to get the dirt out. I found the only way to be reliably 100% successful doing that with short leeks was to split the entire shank, again too much of a faff. I don’t know if you found that too?
    I don’t know if they are still available but the first tall leek I grew was ‘Lincoln’ an F1 bred for baby leeks- rapid production of long shanks was the target- but I used to grow them out to full size. With baby vegetables going the way of the Dodo Johnny’s, who used to carry it, stopped offering it a few years ago but it may still be available somewhere. I did read of it being de-hybridised by some gardeners so it may offer another alternative for you.

    Comment by JHM | April 10, 2015 | Reply

  17. I’ve noticed that customers often don’t want really large leeks. They don’t really know what to do with them and don’t understand how well they keep. One of those big shanks in the fridge can just be whittled down over a week or two. I simply hate cleaning short leeks. I’m spoiled now. If there is a hardy, long, self blanching leek, good riddance. There may be other reasons to grow short leeks (flavor?), but I can’t think of a compelling one from where I sit.

    I grew Lincoln before and a number of others, but I can’t remember much in the way of details. Bulgarian Giant rose to the top and I’ve just stuck with it. I prefer to grow them very large for personal use. I’ll keep a shank in the fridge and use to make 2 or 3 meals. I treat them something like a vegetable at times and use up a whole shank in one pot of soup or a long stewed dish. Early in the season when I’m culling out the off types, I’ll sometime use multiple smaller leeks for one meal.

    The only major issue i’ve had with BG, besides rust which I imagine probably has more to do with culture than genetic susceptibility, is occasional winter damage. Since I’m never much below 20 degrees f, that may rule out Bulgarian Giant for many people who live in colder areas, or they may just require excessive coddling. Maybe Gigante d’Inverno would be an alternative, or could be crossed with Bulgarian Giant if it has any qualities lacking in Gigante d’Inverno. Or, just hybridizing them could put some fresh genes in the mix and result in increased health and vigour. I think that’s a good idea. After all, I guess most varieties are the result of inbreeding to strengthen certain traits, which then just continues as the variety is maintained over generations.

    Comment by Stevene | April 10, 2015 | Reply

  18. Hello Steven– Thanks again for this article. So since I read this several years ago and wrote you, I have grown the ‘Bulgarian Giant’ variety several seasons. I LOVE it, but the only downside I have found and I think this may be the reason the tall varieties are not so readily available, is that they seem to take longer to grow than the traditional short leeks. Have you found this to be the case? and do you still favor this variety or others? Hope alls well. Thanks!

    Comment by Rachel M. | February 19, 2017 | Reply

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