Leeks, related to onions, can be planted now for spring

If you want your soup to taste like your Mom made it, you have to use the same ingredients.

Tyrone gardener Mark Raffetto likes to use leeks in his cooking because they have a more delicate flavor than onion – and because that’s what his Mom used.

Mark plants his leeks in the spring, in full sun and a slightly acidic soil which he keeps moist with a soaker hose.

He buys leek seedlings in cell packs wherever he finds them. His seedlings go in three or four inches deep, in raised beds with plenty of loose soil. He hills them once during the growing season, to keep them from growing out of the ground. He’s been amending his soil for years, using compost from the IRC Recycling and Compost facility on Black Snake Road near Buckhorn.

Katrina Pope, education and enforcement coordinator, says the facility “cooks and cures” yard waste. The waste is formed into win-drows until the internal temperature reaches be-tween 130 to 150 degrees. It’s “cooked” and “cured”when the temperature of the row drops to 100 degrees.

The finished product is screened and sold in bulk, $20 for a one yard scoop or in bags $6 for 1.5 cubic foot. Both prices include tax. Or you can get compost at the Duncansville facility near Inlows on old Route 220 or from Greener Acres, a vendor at the Juniata Farmers Market.

Mark begins his leek harvest when they’re a little larger than a pencil. He pulls every second plant, giving the others room to grow. They can be left in the ground for an extended harvest but he usually lifts the remainder of his crop this time of year.

Leeks don’t flop like onions, nor do they keep as well as onions, so Mark cleans the leeks thoroughly and freezes them whole.

You don’t have to wait until spring to try planting leeks. Leeks can be planted anytime the ground is soft enough to work. From seed, they have a long growing season – 75 to 100 days to mature.

Put them in this time of year and they’ll be ready for harvesting in the spring. Over-wintering leeks are larger than summer leeks and while they still have that delicate leek flavor, the taste is more concentrated than in plants started in the spring.

Not all garden centers offer them, but both seeds and seedlings can be found on the Internet and in garden catalogues. The Cook’s Garden, located in Warminster, PA, www.cooksgarden.com, offers Allium ampeloprasum, Blue Solaise seeds, “a hard-to-find French variety” and their “best selling leek.” These leeks are hybridized specifically for over-wintering. Cook’s gardeners dig them up every month of the year, even in a foot of snow.

Fair Warning: Leeks are closely related to onions and so are susceptible to the same diseases. A regular application of fungicide and a 3 to 4 year crop rotation helps control both disease and insects.

Contact Teresa Futrick at esroyllek@hotmail.com.