Leek ‘Musselburgh’ is extremely hardy and one of the most useful types of leek, being one that can be picked over winter from Dec to April when there is little else in the vegetable garden…a very hardy leek. With medium-dark green tops and large, tender, white stalks which have a mild flavour; it is a very dependable performer that has been around for many years.
Musselburgh is named for a coastal market town on the Firth of Forth. It is thought to be a descendant of a French leek called Gros-Court, a huge variety (about 33cm / 13 inches in diameter!) which was cultivated by a market gardener near Paris, who found it on a farm near Rouen.
Leeks prefer a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil. As they will sit in the soil for a long time, they are ideal crop for the allotment, although many have fantastic foliage that makes them an ideal vegetable to grow in flower borders or an ornamental potager. For exhibition or an early crop, sow Musselburgh in January-February under glass at 18 to 21°C (65-70°F). For general purpose sow March-April outdoors in prepared seedbed for use from October to April. Harvest in 150 days.
Preparing the soil: If possible, prepare the soil for planting in the winter. Dig the site well, removing weeds and working in plenty of well-rotted manure to improve its ability to retain water. Leeks can be planted in heavy soil, but improve the drainage by mixing in some horticultural sand. This is a hungry crop – spread a general balanced fertiliser over the soil a week or so before sowing and rake in. A rate of 60g per square metre is ideal.
Timing: If you live where the autumns are long and cool and frost is rare, you can plant two crops. Sow the first crop 12 to 14 weeks before the last frost in spring. In mid-July, sow the second crop indoors. If your area could experience frost during the winter, plant a frost-tolerant variety for your second sowing (‘King Richard’ together with ‘Musselburgh’ a winter leek, makes an excellent combination for extended harvest)
Sowing: Sow seeds indoors 12 to 14 weeks before the last frost date Seeds can also be sown direct later but will give smaller plants
Sowing Indoors: Sow the seeds thinly and evenly 6mm (1/4in) deep in moistened potting mix and cover them lightly with vermiculite or sand. Keep the soil temperature at about 70°F until the seeds germinate. Move the seedlings under grow lights or into a very bright window. Thinning the seedlings will encourage more rapid growth, but it isn't necessary if you keep them well fertilized. When the grass-like seedlings get to be 15cm (6in) long, cut them back by 4cm (1½ to 2in) You can use the part you cut off as you would chives. Harden off the plants before transplanting into the garden starting in late April or early May (the plants will tolerate light frost). You can also transplant later or sow seed directly outdoors for smaller plants.
Transplanting: When the seedlings are about the diameter of a pencil, they are ready to transplant outside. Planting deeply helps to blanch the stems. Use a dibber (or a rake handle - great for making perfect holes). and make holes 15cm (6in) deep and 22cm (9in) apart. Make the rows 38cm (15in) apart. Mark the row clearly so that, when weeding later you don’t remove plants by mistake. Drop the leek seedlings into the holes leaving just the tips of the leaves showing. Do not fill in the holes or try to cover the roots with soil or even firm them in. Just fill each hole with water from the watering can and this will wash some soil over the roots and be just enough to tighten the little plants in. Over time the holes will fill up gradually.
Sowing Direct: On the allotment seeds are best sown in rows, 35 to 40cm apart. Mark a straight line and use the corner of a rake to make a shallow groove in the soil, about 1cm deep. Sow seed thinly along the trench, cover with soil, water and label. When seedlings have three leaves each, about four to five weeks later, thin to leave plants every 15cm – the seedlings you remove could be used to plug gaps elsewhere.
Cultivation: Keep the leek bed moist in dry weather and hoe regularly to keep the weeds down. Except for exhibition plants there is no need to feed the leek plants. But if you want to be sure of a good crop you can feed with weak liquid manure and hoe in a small dressing of nitrate of soda. After the holes the leeks were planted in have filled up, push some soil up to the stems with the hoe. This will make sure you will have a good length of white (blanched) stem. Do this earthing up gradually over a period of three weeks because if done too much to soon, the leek plants may rot. Mulch will help to retain moisture over summer.
Rotation considerations: Avoid following onions, shallots, garlic and chives.
Good Companions: Beet, carrot, celery, garlic, onion, parsley and tomato.
Bad Companions: Beans, peas
Harvesting: Pull up as and when required. Harvest them by lifting carefully with a fork, aiming to avoid damaging neighbouring crops.
Storage: They will keep in your refrigerator for at least a month, but the quality will not be as good as when freshly harvested. The variety and packaging will affect the storage life. And digging the plant up doesn't stop it's growth - it will continue to grow (very slowly) for months even under refrigeration, but this growth reduces the quality of the stems.
History: The leek was developed from a wild type, Allium ampeloprasum (the "vineyard leek" or poireau de vigne in French), which is native to Western Asia and the Mediterranean countries. Wild leeks were used as food during the early Bronze Age, around 4000 B.C., and were probably domesticated around 2000 B.C. They were part of the diet of those who built the Egyptian pyramids, and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed the leek as a cure for nosebleeds.
Leeks have been cultivated in Western Europe since the Middle Ages, and are particularly associated with Wales – dating back to 640 AD when Welsh soldiers wore pieces of leek in their helmets to distinguish themselves from their Saxon foes in battle. The Welsh traditionally wear a leek on St. David's day (March 1st) to commemorate King Cadawallader's victory over the Saxons that year. The name leak comes from the Anglo-Saxon "leac." In the 1820s the French hybridiser Vilmorin-Andrieux used Gros-Court to develop several large varieties (including a parent of Carentan, dubbed Monstrueux de Carentan for its monstrous size). One of these large varieties can be traced to England, where it grew under the name London Flag, which also became one of the most widely cultivated leeks in America into the 1870s. A sister strain traveled to Edinburgh, where Scottish seedsmen introduced the shorter, paler variety called Musselburgh in 1834. It is named for a coastal market town on the Firth of Forth.
|Average Seed Count||200 Seeds|
|Synonym||Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum|
|Common Name||Winter Leek|
|Other Common Names||Other|
|Natural Flower Time||No|
|Time to Harvest||No|
|Time to Sow||No|