Comparing 2001 and 2002 - Blanch Leeks & Celery
9th May 2002
Last year my Blanch leeks were planted into their beds on the 2nd May which was the latest that I had ever planted them and they were also, apart from one aspect, the best leeks that I have ever grown. The reason I say one aspect is the fact that they did split far too much for my liking and I put it down to collaring the leek plants far too high too soon. The main problem was that the plants actually looked as if they were ready for a big collar and I think that the mistake was made immediately they were planted in their beds.
Last year, was no different in reality to any other year, it was hectic throughout April and May and the leeks were very big in their pots when they were moved out of the greenhouses and onto the polytunnel soil to harden up. However as I had a lot of bedding plants around at the same time the leeks were placed all together in one corner of the tunnel for over two weeks prior to planting them. The result was that although they appeared to be tremendous plants, what I had overlooked at the time was the effect that crowding them all together would have. When they were planted they measured between 4.5 and 4.7 around and 12 inches to the button.
Thinking back, it was this length to the button at that time that eventually caused problem with the leeks splitting badly from late July onwards. Believe me there is nothing more heartbreaking than having to peel off flag after flag to get down to a tight button and seeing you leeks reduce from over 8 inches around to just over 7 around. The twelve inches to the button at the time didn't strike me as being too long as they also had the weight with them. The mistake however I made was to place them too tight together for that two week period in the polytunnel which pulled the button upwards in search of light.
Immediately after planting, rather than placing a 15 inch collar around them I went straight up to 18 inches which the leek looked correct on. With hindsight they should have had a 15 inch collar for about two weeks and then onto an 18 inch one. The consequence was that having had an 18 inch collar on the 2nd May, they were then in need of a 21 inch collar during June which was far too early. This year the leeks are much shorter and heavier having been grown at Bangor, as I have plenty of bench space there they have had enough light around them to keep them much shorter.
They were brought home from Bangor during the middle of April and have this time been given much more room in the polytunnel. The beds were given a good soaking with the sprinkler and left on from morning until night time. When I turned it off the beds were absolutely saturated with puddles even on top of the soil. That says a lot, my soil in the beds is very free draining so any excess Nitrogen and any impurities will hopefully have all have been washed out. The beds were then left to dry out before they were given four ounces per yard run of Hydro Complex Partner and the same quantity of calcified Seaweed.
The leeks will be planted this weekend in one row along the length of each bed making sure that each one will be planted to the right depth so that when collared they will be pulled up to the same length of button. To do this I measure down from the rim of each pot to the bottom or root plate of the leek. An empty pot is then positioned in the planting hole to a depth that will allow the root plate of each leek planted to be two inches below the soil level. The pot is removed when you have the right depth and planting is then made a lot easier by simply removing the leek from the pot and dropping it carefully into the pre formed hole. Once planted I will have to make a decision as to which collar size to put on. If I can get away with it I shall use a twelve inch collar for the first couple of weeks to be followed by an 15 and an 18 inch one and finally, if needed, a 21 inch collar.
My F1 hybrid Celery, Evening Star was sown about two weeks later than last year, even though they were tremendous plants then I was unable to show any of them as they had simply gone over top. The vigour within these new hybrids is quite amazing and I honestly feel that once we learn how to cope with them we are yet to see the best of these. Last year I planted the celery before I went to Chelsea as it was starting to get pot bound. This year will be different as I intend to pot it into it's final 6inch pot now which should be ample until I plant it out on my return from Chelsea towards the end of May.
There's no doubt that the celery plants will grow well in both peat based as well as soil based compost, but I have found over the years that the plants are a lot sturdier and stronger when grown in a soil based medium. The other thing that I have noticed is that the plants are softer in a totally peat based medium and can very easily succumb to celery heart rot, yes even when at the pot stage. I will therefore make my own mixture based on Levington M3 with added soil. I have been very impressed with the Westlands 'Top Soil" that you can buy from any Garden Centre ready bagged. It is sieved and has the roots of the grasses still evident in it. I have used this for all my carrot and parsnip mixes and currently the colour on the foliage is the best that I have seen for many years.
The mixture will therefore be 3 part of Westlands 'Top Soil' mixed with 2 parts of Levington M3 and one part of medium grade Vermiculite. The mixture will be measured out in 9 inch pots and to the 6 potfulls of compost I shall add 25 ml of Hydro Complex Partner and the same of Calcified seaweed. This is to make sure that there is enough food in the compost to maintain good growth until they get planted in their beds. It will also accommodate the fact that the Vermiculite, though extremely useful in the mixture to introduce air at the roots, it will also have weakened the compost somewhat. The beds have already been rotavated once with some very old leaf mould added to it and I shall tell you what the fertiliser requirements will be before I plant them.