Exhibition tips for Growing Leeks
Leek-growing competitions, in which enormous size was the determining factor, have long been a tradition in the north of England and Scotland; today, well growncan be an asset to any display, and perfect leeks are worth 20 points, the maximum for vegetables.
For mid-summer exhibits, seeds should be sown in early to mid-winter. Remember that with exhibition leeks, it is quality rather than quantity that is called for. Six is the usual number shown for single dishes, and nine leeks for collections, so do not get caught up in raising unnecessarily large numbers of leeks. Sow the seeds thinly in John Innes seed, so the tiny do not have to complete for food, air and moisture.
For germination to be successful, temperature should be kept at 13°C (55°F). After germination it can be reduced a little, gradually; remember that leeks are hardy and although they are required to be well-grown for early, too much warmth will force them and make them leggy. When the seedlings are about 5 cm (2”) high, prick them out into pans filled with John Innes No 2 compost. The seedlings should be 7.5 cm (3”) apart in all directions. Be very careful not to damage the tiny single root which supplies nourishment to the plant until additional roots have formed. The young leeks will probably need potting again before planting out, into 12.5-15 cm (5 or 6”) pots. If small pots are full of roots some weeks before planting out time, then bigger pots will be essential. In early spring, put the trays in cold frames, to harden the young plants off before planting out in mid-spring.
Lifting the leeks prior to exhibition is a fairly delicate operation; it is all too easy to wreck a season’s work by damaging the leeks at this time. Remember that as many roots as possible should remain intact on the plant.
Before actually digging them up, it is a wise precaution to gently tie the top foliage upright with soft twine. Well grown leeks tend to have brittle top foliage, and it will snap off if mishandled.
After tying the foliage, scrape away all sand,or peat from the base of the plant. Lift off any drainpipes; occasionally you may have to carefully break the drainpipe with a hammer to get the leek out. If they have been grown in cardboard tubes, it is best to leave the tubes on until the leeks have been lifted. The tubes are then cut open, carefully, with a sharp knife.
Lift the specimens with a fork, digging well under the roots so you do not inadvertently spear the leek. Once the leeks are out of the ground, wrap them in clean, damp cloths or paper; if you leave them exposed to the light, the blanched portions will rapidly turn green. Take them indoors and carefully cut away the first outer layer of soiled leaves. You may have to remove a second layer of leaves, but do not remove more than necessary, or the leeks’ appearance will be damaged.
After removing the outer leaves, totally immerse the leeks in cold water, to get rid of all traces of soil. Change the water several times, until the leeks are perfectly clean. They should be cleaned while still tied, or the leaves may snap off in the water.
Leeks must be packed carefully for transport to the show; this is particularly important because their large size makes handling difficult.
While in transit the leeks should be kept cool, otherwise the foliage will turn yellow.
Depending on the number shown, leeks are displayed flat on staging, in a basket, or vertically, like columns, on a specially built base. To display them vertically, make a round wooden base, about 2.5 cm (1”) thick, through which you hammer the required number of spikes. These spikes, usually bright metal nails, should be equidistant from each other, and protrude about 5 cm (2”) above the board. Just-before the show, place the board right side up on the staging, cover the surface with a thick bed of, and fix the leeks securely onto the nails. Because the leeks may tend to lean at slightly different angles, it is best to tie the tips of the leeks together with soft green twine. Three or four bands of twine should be enough to secure them firmly. When this is done, remove the twine which tied the individual leaves together, from the lifting stage onwards. If well done, the leeks will look like white columns, seemingly unsupported.
The judges will look for solid, thick leeks, not less than 30 cm (1’) long, without any tapering. There should no swelling at the base, or any discolouration. As with all vegetables, the leeks should be as uniform as possible.