When you are growing leeks, it can be difficult to get that beautiful white bottom that forms most of the edible part of the vegetable. Of course, the leafy green part at the top of the leek can be eaten, but most people prefer to chow down on the crispy white part.
However, without proper cultivation, growing leeks could be more difficult than you first imagined. But the good news is that we are about to reveal one of the best kept leek growing secrets – toilet rolls!
Yes, you read that correctly. Toilet rolls are a critical accessory if you want to grow healthy, crisp, delicious leeks. And let’s face it; we’ve all got plenty of them. In this guide, we will be giving you everything you need to know about how to grow leeks in toilet rolls as well as some other handy leek growing tips for excellent results every time.
Getting Started With Growing Leeks
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to grow leeks in toilet rolls, it is vital that we understand exactly what leeks need to thrive. One of the greatest things about living in the UK is that we have the perfect climate for growing leeks. Unlike a lot of fruits and vegetables which require a warmer climate, leeks don’t mind the cooler weather and will do very well in UK soil.
These long, tender vegetables can be harvested from the middle of summer, but at this point, they won’t be particularly large. If you want decent-sized leeks then harvesting in autumn will typically yield the best results.
While the leek is actually a member of the onion family, they are generally much easier to grow than their round cousins. The white base of the vegetable is perfect in a variety of dishes, and the part that will thrive when growing leeks in toilet rolls. However, there is no need to throw out the green just yet. If you’re into making soups and stocks, these are a great way of adding flavour!
Where is the Best Place to Plant Leeks?
Leeks do not do particularly well in very rich soil. For this reason, we would always advise against using fresh manure on the soil and go with soil that has been manured during a previous crop. The soil also needs to be relatively light and keep moist throughout the growing period, without being saturated. Leeks prefer a firmer soil that is relatively compacted.
Without these optimal conditions, particularly if too much manure is applied to the soil, the leeks tend to be much tougher and the white bulbs will struggle to thrive. One of the most impressive things about leeks is that, when left in the ground, they will do well for up to a year, so if you’ve no need to eat them right away, you can leave them where they are and dig them up as you need them.
However, you should keep in mind that when growing leeks annually, you should mix up the location to reduce incidents with pests and disease. You can plant them after lettuce or peas as well as cabbage but you should avoid placing them in the same soil as potatoes owing to the loose soil.
When Do I Plant Leeks?
It is best to begin sowing your leek seeds in the middle of spring, however, this will largely depend on the weather. You have two choices when it comes to sowing the leek seeds, you can either do this in a container with a mind to transfer them in the following summer or you may sow them in the same location they will remain permanently.
There are pros and cons to either method. Of course, using a container or seed bed will mean that you have the additional job of transferring them when summer comes. However, if you do plant them in the final location, you won’t be able to use this ground for some time while the leeks grow from seeds to fully-sized stems.
How To Grow Leeks In Toilet Rolls
Now that you have your leek growing skills down to a T, the fun can begin. Well in advance of planting your initial leek crop, you should begin collecting toilet rolls. Even if you don’t get through a lot of these yourself, you can always rope family and friends into saving theirs for your crop.
Why do I Need to Grow Leeks in Toilet Rolls?
It may sound a little obscure when you first hear about growing leeks in toilet rolls, but when you think about it, cardboard tubes are used for a lot of gardening needs. One of the first things you should consider is that toilet rolls, being made from cardboard, are fully compostable. Once they are in the ground, they will naturally and quickly degrade making them eco-friendly.
The idea of using toilet roll collars for your leeks is that these will prevent too much sunlight from getting to the leeks, therefore turning the white bulb green. In order to prevent this, you can use a single toilet roll to collar two leeks, or if you prefer, you can use other types of cardboard tube, depending on what you have around the house.
When you first plant your leek crop, you won’t need to worry about the toilet rolls until the leeks begin to poke out of the ground. At this point, you will add the toilet roll collars and leave them in place until you are ready to harvest the stems. Let’s take a look at our handy step by step guide.
Begin by digging down into the soil, in preparation for planting the leeks. You will need to dig down to a depth of around 8 inches and be sure that the soil contains a healthy level of organic matter, but as we mentioned earlier, not too much fresh manure. You will then need to make several furrows to a depth of around 7 inches, ensuring a 12 inch gap between each.
You will now need to plant your leeks. Depending on whether you are using leek seeds or seedlings you may need to plant them differently. For seedlings, always plant them at a similar depth to what they were in the container, whereas the seeds can be placed around half an inch down.
You’ll then need to fill in the furrows leaving the green tips exposed. For seeds, you will need to pinch back the soil as the leeks grow.
Keep the soil moist at all times but never over water the leeks. You can add mulch once the seeds sprout but try to wait around six weeks to ensure that at least two green leaves are visible.
You are now ready to use your toilet roll collars to protect your leeks. As we discussed earlier, you can use one toilet roll for two leeks; simply cut the toilet roll in half so that you have two 2-inch sections. You can also use kitchen roll tubes, provided that you cut them to the correct size.
You will not need to carefully apply the toilet rolls to the leeks being careful not to disturb them too much as you do. Gently slide the toilet roll over the leek and bring it down to the soil. You can push the toilet roll down into the soil by about half an inch.
Now all that is left to do is wait for your leeks to grow fully and tend to them as you would normally. It is a good idea to add plenty of natural fertiliser to help their growth but do ensure that you get the balance right. Every crop will differ but as a general rule of thumb, you will need to apply the fertiliser between once a week and once every two weeks.
Caring For Your Leeks
Aside from adding the toilet roll collars and providing your leeks with a healthy amount of fertiliser, there are other important care tips that will ensure you have a beautiful and delicious crop of leeks by the time that late summer comes.
One of the biggest gripes of leek growers in the UK is that these plants are susceptible to quite a few pests. As we mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to avoid problems with leeks is to alter their growing location from year to year. This will pretty much eliminate any issues with diseases or pests, but of course, there is always a risk.
Rust is a common problem for leeks but the good news is that if you are growing one of the winter varieties, a good bout of frost will kill off the rust without affecting the quality of the leeks. However, if you are going to be growing an autumn variety, like the ones we have talked about in this guide, then you will need to keep an eye on the leaves. Remove any that are affected as you see them and this should be enough to protect the remainder of the leek.
Furthermore, you should always be on your guard for pests. In the UK, there are several that affect the leeks, but in the main, you can expect to do battle with the following:
- Leek moths which will leave visible white streaks on the leaves of the plant.
- Onion flies which will cause the leaves to sag and turn yellow. They may also tunnel in the flesh of the plant.
- White tips are another common problem which results in paper-like patches on the leaves, causing them to die.
- White rot is a big issue and this can be determined by grey or white fungus around the bottom of the plant as well as leaves that develop a yellow tinge.
How to Harvest Leeks
When the late summer or early autumn comes around, all of your hard work and ample supply of toilet rolls will have paid off and you should be left with an excellent crop of leeks that are ready to harvest. If you aren’t ready to eat the leeks right away, there is the option to leave them in the ground up until the spring.
However, you should keep in mind that a frost could affect your ability to lift the leeks from the ground. If this is predicted, it is best to take the leeks out of the ground before it becomes solid and place them in some sand. You can keep them in a cool place and they should remain fit for eating for some time, generally up to one month.
If you leave the leeks in the ground and still aren’t ready for them, we have a couple of bonus leek growing secrets for you. You could pull the leeks from the ground and lie them flat in a location in full shade, where they should keep until you are ready to use them. Alternatively, you could trim the leaves and wait for leek bulbs to develop which can then be used as a shallot alternative.
Leeks are a tasty vegetable that go well in a variety of dishes. While they do require rather specific growing conditions, there are things you can do to ensure that your crop always turns out well. One such thing is to make use of something you might typically throw out; toilet rolls.
Toilet rolls can be used to collar the leeks, protecting them from the sunlight and preventing the edible white bulbs from turning green.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Do not over fertilise your leeks, they do not like the soil to be too rich!”
“For the best results and bigger leeks, wait until autumn before harvesting!”
“Leeks can stay in the ground for up to a year so you can leave them in the ground and lift them when you need them!”
“Like most vegetables, if you are growing year after year, you will need to rotate them into a different plot to prevent the build-up of pests and disease!”
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do Leeks take to grow?
Leeks take around 4o weeks to grow to their full size but they can be left in the ground for much longer. Leeks do well in the ground so you only need to lift them when you use them.
Are leeks difficult to grow?
Leeks are extremely easy to grow and they do well in the UK climate. Leeks do not require much attention and they can be left in the ground for up to a year.
What is a good companion plant for leeks?
Strawberries. Strawberries thrive next to leeks as the leek seems to repel some of the pests that may take a liking to strawberries.