Leeks, Peas and Celery
5th Sep 2002
It's been a funny old Summer this year, at least over here in Anglesey anyway, there were 6 days towards the end of July that really had an adverse effect on my Peas. The weather was very dull and humid and we never even saw the sun, just constant fine showers of rain. It seemed to hang around the peas all the time making the foliage that is wrapped around the leading shoot go brown and sweaty as well as some of the tendrils dying back.
On the other hand it was excellent weather for the celery, plenty of moisture around which this bog plant really likes.
It's time to think ahead slightly to next year, particularly if you are going to produce your own leeks from pips, bulbils or grass. The idea is to select the very best of this years leeks to produce bulbils or pips off the leek head next year. In ideal conditions, those pips or bulbils can be removed from the head during late October and set away in some fine compost with added fine free draining sand. The way to go about it is to pick two or three of your very best specimens and after coming home from the show you remove the bottom 6 inches or so of the barrel as well as the whole root system to within a quarter of an inch or so of the root plate.
I then prefer to remove flags from the barrel to reduce the size down to match the size of the root plate. The reason I do this is that the outer flags of the parent leek will die off anyway and can cause problem if disease get at them. Towards the end of the season you will hardly have any flags left on the stem of the seed head anyway and it also helps to prevent any rust spores from settling on them. These can then be potted up singly or two or three in a bigger pot using some good quality compost such as Levington M3. I like to pot mine up singly into the deep 4 litre rose type pots.
To go back to the beginning, the pips, bulbils or grass that we are trying to get the mother leek to generate are one and the same thing, they are all a clone or a vegetative reproduction of the mother plant, directly from the seed head. This means that you have to be particularly keen when you select your few leeks, any that have an abnormality, such as a natural tendency to have a bulbous base, will reproduce itself in the young seedlings. Also pick leeks with as dark a coloured green leaf as you can and free from any yellow streaks or blotches. Most leeks today grown from bulbils have a tendency to be infected with virus, indeed they can be infected with more than one so the cleaner the plant looks the better are your chances of keeping your stock relatively virus free.
The other point to remember as well is to keep your leeks free from any aphids that can easily transmit the viruses from plant to plant so keeping up a regular spraying problem can help towards this end. Thrips are a nightmare for both leek and onion growers and this little insect must also be looked upon as a possible carrier of viruses. Indeed I would go as far as to say that anything that bites into the foliage and sucks or passes infection into the sap stream has, in my book, to be considered a potential threat.
This year I was really caught unawares by the damage that that can occur to leeks from the leek and onion moth. Before I realised it they had munched away at the lower foliage within days and this is exactly what can happen when we are not vigilant enough during the growing season. Luckily for me they attacked only the mature lower leaves and those were soon removed as the leek swelled out, but did they leave anything within the plants sap stream? Time will tell.
Pips or Bulbils
The leeks that are going to be producing my bulbils for use later on this year have done very well for me, they were still with their green caps on the flower head into early August, this means That I will probably be harvesting some clean fresh bulbils for rooting on. One of the biggest problems with generating pips or bulbils is to get them off the head as late as possible, usually the heads develop far to soon, then you have to take your chance with pips that have gone past their sell by date. Once the green cap has left the seed head, before the flowers have opened, some leek bulbils can be seen pushing through the seed ahead alreday.
These are not the ones that I am interested in, as soon as the heads are fully open I will shave off or remove all the flowers using a sharp knife or scissors. At this time, even though the head has bulbils pushing through it, they will all be trimmed off in the same way. From this point on you need to balance the fact that the plant wants to be kept growing cool whilst at the same time, particularly when the head is well formed, you don't want it to get saturated with the autumn rains. Saturated wet heads can often lead to devastation as the bulbils can root prematurely within the head which is not what we are looking for.
The prefect scenario is to have a roof over their head so that the rains can not get at the heads, at the same time plenty of fresh air can move around below the heads cooling the plant off. Give them the occasional spray with an insecticide to make sure they are kept free from any sucking aphids. The ideal or perfect bulbil for me is one straight off a fresh green head with the green running right through to the tips of the foliage showing no sign of die back. When the bulbils are removed they should be pearly white and on closer examination the tiny root plate should aslo be white. If there is evidence of any browning or corkiness around the root area, you could have trouble later on and the head is better disposed of.