Growing Leeks From Heirloom Seeds

Growing leeks can be a rewarding experience.

| January/February 2014

Leeks have recently gained popularity in the vegetable world, but they’re still not filling the serving dishes of ordinary households as frequently as other veggies.

Much favors the cultivation of the leek: They are relatively easy to grow and are tough once established, they are not eaten by four-legged mammals, they last well into the fall, and they can be overwintered in many colder climates with simple protection. While subject to a number of diseases and the attention of a variety of insects, they are generally free of serious problems depending on climate and weather. Leeks do best in rich, moist soil and require a fairly long growing season. In my opinion, the biggest drawbacks to growing leeks are that seeds need to be started early and indoors, and it is often difficult to find plants for sale, especially heirloom varieties.


Leeks (Allium porrum) are a member of the Allium or Onion group.  They are monocotyledons, so they have a single “seed leaf” and the leaf veins are parallel to each other. Most members of this family are perennials, forming a rhizome or bulb, and some, like leeks, are biennials, producing seeds in their second year of growth.

Compounds in leeks

All alliums possess a variety of organosulfides, which are converted to a wide complex of sulfur compounds when the plant parts are bruised, cut or chewed. This results in the plants’ distinctive odor and flavors, as well as the stinging and irritation when the plant is touched or consumed. The compounds remain in an inert state in the plant until they are released. While some of these compounds are quite potent, most are relatively short lived and begin to degrade in the environment and plant tissue once released, and especially with heating. Because many of these molecules are so volatile, they can quickly diffuse in the air and, in the case of onions, cause our eyes to tear.

Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum) possess less potent compounds than some of their cousins and a different array of compounds to create their unique taste. At last count, leeks contained about 90 different flavor compounds. The edible whitish portion of the leek is considered a false stem or elongated bulb.

A close relative that forms a true bulb is elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum). It is milder in taste than garlic, and more garlic-like in taste than leeks. Kurrat (Allium ampeloprasum var. kurrat), known as Egyptian leek, is grown primarily for its leaves. Kurrat is not hardy in cold climates.

2/8/2014 8:18:40 PM

First year I grew leeks they did very well. Had to many to use up so wanted to try over wintering some. That worked except my chickens got in my garden area in spring and scratched them out of the dirt and ate them. I also wonder if the deer in the area might try eating them as deer this fall actual pulled out and dug up onions and ate them. Never would of thought they would eat onions.

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