Harvesting Vegetables for the Show -Leeks
24th Aug 2000
Checking for Unirformity
Continuing on last weeks theme of harvesting vegetables for the show, a few weeks before showing it's a good idea to spend time going thoroughly through your blanch leek bed. The purpose of this exercise would be to ascertain how many good ones you have and what size they are. Uniformity of size with leeks can be quite an important factor as one out of three leeks in a dish that is smaller or bigger than the others will easily stand out. Uniformity as a category in judging blanch leeks is worth 4 points if the show you are attending is judged under NVS (National Vegetable Society) rules and 5 points if it"s judged under RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) rules.
Untie the Collars
Untie the collars and carefully remove the soil from around the base of the leek right down to the root plate, then take away any split skins down to a tight button or a whole flag. If you are entering a show where the judges are going to be measuring each leek to determine it's cubic capacity then you will have to measure the length from the base of the root plate to the button. You will then need to mark the half way point with a labelling pen before measuring the circumference of the leek at that point. You can then work out the cubic capacity, or a much simpler way is buy a chart from the National Pot Leek Society where all the measurement are worked out and recorded in columns for you.
RHS or NVS Rules
If they are judged under RHS or NVS rules then taking the circumference approximately half way between the base plate and the button will be sufficient to tell you the size of each leek and therefore how many you may have to select at a determined size. The method of recording the measurements depends on how you grow your leeks, if you are growing them through the black and white polythene then you can very easily just write down the measurement on to white polythene using a labelling pen. The date you measured the leeks can also be added and this will show you how much growth the leeks are putting on from week to week.
As I don"t grow my leeks through black and white polythene I prefer to record the measurements in a book where each leek is given a number and the date and measurement is then written along side. If you haven't got three leeks that exactly match each other under the category of size then a few notes along side each leek to say how good they are, even if slightly smaller, will help you decide which ones to select. It"s no point at all for instance selecting three leeks purely because they match each other in size alone, one might have a mark on it or even a slightly bulbous barrel. Size is therefore only one meritorious criteria and pre measuring them is merely a guide to enable you to lift three leeks quickly on the day of the show rather than wasting time removing and replacing leek collars.
On the day of the Show
On the day of the show, or even the day before if travelling far, once you have decided which leeks you are going to use, tie the flags together with some twine and carefully push a fork underneath the leek to lift it upwards with as much roots as possible attached. Hold the leek around the collar and shake off as much loose soil as possible and rinse off the bulk of the soil. The purpose of tying the flags together well above the top of the collar is to prevent the outer flags from falling down and possibly even snapping off.
At the bottom of my garden I have an old galvanised bath and close to it an old steel table that has a wooden top which is covered over with some black and white polythene. The leeks are then placed on this table and the collars removed together with a split flag should that be necessary. At this point have a good look at it's condition and how straight the barrel is, if it has a slight curve then this can be straightened very carefully at this point by placing it across you belly and slightly pulling back against against the curve.
This will usually straighten out any slight curvature of the barrel without any damage whatsoever to the outer flags. If however the barrel is curved steeply or way down towards the root plate then it's definitely better to leave the leek well alone or select another straighter specimen. Trying to straighten a badly curved leek will only result in the outer flags coming apart and causing ripples along the barrel which a good judge will spot instantly and mentally knock you down on the Condition criteria.
Washing and Preparation
Once you are satisfied that you have a good set then you can start to wash them properly, the table top that I have is lightly tilted upwards and away from me so that any dirt that I wash off doesn't run back into the flags. To wash the roots thoroughly, so that every grain of soil is removed, I use a very fine pressurised spray on my hose pipe and whilst washing them I also at the same time tease some of the soil away with the other hand. To complete the washing use a soft sponge to gently wipe up and down the barrel and finally hold the leek upside down and give a quick rinse to the flags so that all three specimens are perfectly clean.
They are then carried to my garage and placed on some clean polythene and covered over with plain moist tissue to keep then fresh. It's a great joy to look down at a finished set of three leeks, if they are good they will sparkle, the barrels will be as shiny and smooth as marble, solid and heavy with no bulbousness around the root plate and the flags should be clean and free from pest, burn damage or rust. To transport them to the show wrap each barrel well above the button with some strong tissue and then use one of the builders damp course collars that has been washed perfectly clean to wrap back round the barrel to prevent any damage during transportation.