Grow Leeks to Save Leek Seeds
Before you can save leek seed, you need to grow leeks – or know someone who is growing them. You may have heard that leeks are difficult to grow but I say, if you can grow a potato, you can grow a leek. Follow this link to learn more and grow leeks. Learning and Yearning clarifies for us that a wild leek is not the same thing as a garden leek.
Save Leek Seeds
As your leek harvest matures, you’ll want to select three to five of the best looking leek stalks to all to go to seed. That means, you want to look for the healthiest and fattest leeks you have and let them grow a flower stalk. If you’ve ever seen any member of the allium family flowering, you’ll recognize a leek bloom immediately.
That flower stalk will be pollinated by insects and eventually turn into a flower head full of seeds. I like allium blooms and think they’re lovely – we actually grow a bedding version in the children’s flower garden. The leek seeds can be allowed to dry right on the stalk but you have to watch the flower head carefully so that the seed (which looks a bit like a black pyramid) doesn’t drop to the ground before you have a chance to harvest it.
One way to prevent losing your seed to the ground is to rubber band a lunch sized paper bag over the flower head. This secures it to the stalk, ensuring that your seed will fall inside your bag while it dries on the plant. If you’d like, you can also cut the stalks and bring them inside when you notice the seeds are dark and the flowers have faded. Invert your cut stalks and place them, head first, into a paper bag to hang them in a well ventilated place to finish drying.
Regardless of where you do it, once your seed is dry, you need to separate out the chaff from your seed. Chaff is all the botanical mess that’s left behind as you separate seed from pods and flowers and stems. Fortunately, with leeks, the seed is easy to see but there is a lot of loose chaff that comes off the seed head. I usually take each seed head one by one and rub them between my hands over a large bowl. Parts fall off and I have to keep rubbing them to loosen all that stems and seed casing so the seed can pop out.
Then, I either blow lightly to remove the chaff or you can set a soft fan to blow on your bowl of seed/plant matter. Be patient, keep stirring the contents of your bowl and you’ll eventually get quite a bit of chaff out. I never get it all because I’m just not that detail oriented but if you want to, keep going until all the stems and loose material are blown out. Actually, you’ll need to use seed sifting screens if you want to get it “all”. More power to you.
Store Clean Leek Seed
Store your cleaned leek seed in labeled paper envelopes (I use coin envelopes a lot), in a cool, dark place and your seed should last one to two years. I usually just replant another batch of leek seeds right away for the fall garden to overwinter or plant early, early the next spring indoors to put out for in the garden once the ground is workable. If you do overwinter, you may want to cover your leeks with something to insulate them during the coldest parts months. I’m in zone 5/6 and my leeks have overwintered with nothing and with a cover and seem to do equally well. One winter we lost some when it dipped crazy cold but I always plant more in my seed starting trays in February anyway. If you plant them each spring, come late summer, you’ll have tasty leeks all ready to harvest again!
Ah, recipes! Here are some links to leek-using recipes – you’re gonna love these! Little Big Harvest and Red and Honey both have great recipes for classic leek and potato soup. Well Fed Family has a recipe for sautéed squash with leeks. Dr. Eric Z has a lovely quiche recipe with leeks.
To get you started on your seed saving adventure, you may want these fine products: