If you exclude the blood red dragon, Wales has two national emblems. I’m very pleased that one of them is edible.
The daffodil, a very prominent feature in these parts at this time of year, is rather a recent symbol for the Welsh having become popular in the nineteenth century and elevated further by the encouragement of David Lloyd George. Interestingly, the word daffodil in welsh is Cenhinen Bedr, which means St Peter’s Leek.
The origin of the leek as an emblem of the Welsh is lost in myth, but it could possibly go back thousands of years. The history that can be pieced together can be traced back, at least, seven hundred years.
Shakespeare refers to the custom of wearing a leek as an ‘ancient tradition’. His Henry V exclaims to be wearing a leek ‘for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman’.
There are records that show payments by the ‘Welsh’ Tudor kings of England for leeks to be worn by the household guards on St. David’s Day, and in the fourteenth century, the feared Welsh archers wore the green and white colours of the leek for their uniforms.
To go back even further is to enter the realms of myth and legend. One such legend is of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, ordering his soldiers to wear a leek on their helmets in the battle against Saxon invaders of Britain. If that wasn’t enough, the battle itself supposedly took place in a field of leeks!
Whatever the truth, there is a strong connection (and smell!) between the Welsh and the leek and I feel sure it unthinkable for me not to try and grow a few on the allotment.
How to grow leeks
A great benefit to growing leeks is that it is one crop that stands the winter and provides good food and vitamins in the months where the veg beds can be quite empty. In cold wet areas, it can be one of the most useful crops to have around.
During WW2, the dig for victory campaign was actively encouraging people to plan and grow for the winter. The Government knew this would be the hardest time to obtain fresh and nutritious fruit and vegetables. It was important to get people growing crops for the winter to sustain the nation and Leeks would have been a key crop alongside winter brassicas.
Here’s how I’m growing Leeks:
Gather together the few things needed:
- A seed tray. I’m using this small one that fits on my heated propagator base.
- Seed sowing compost. I’m using John Innes.
- Leek seeds. I’m using the variety ‘Elefant‘ from Mr. Fothergills.
Place moist compost into the seed tray. Sprinkle the tiny leek seeds thinly on top of the compost. I’m being quite generous with the number of seeds as they can be thinned out later on.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer compost and don’t forget to add a label.
It’s still quite cold at the moment, especially during the night. I shall keep a propagator lid on the seeds and leave them on a sunny windowsill. I will move them outside to the greenhouse in a few weeks time.
I explained in my earlier blog post New allotment series: knowing the plot how important it is to learn and understand the local conditions. One of my plot neighbours recently told me that a number of allotmenteers have suffered with onion fly destroying their leek crops. They discovered one lady on the site had a wonderful crop of leeks last year and her secret was simply waiting until at least June to plant out the leeks. Advice I will be following.
I hope everyone is enjoying the pleasant start to the Spring and the plots are taking shape for the season ahead. I would love to hear from anyone growing leeks this year. Drop me a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.