Today was the last home market for Prairie Roots Farm, the organic farm started by my former colleague and chemistry professor Louise Zaffiro. I want to make leeks and she had some gorgeous ones. I asked her if they were hard to grow. The short answer is “yes.”
Zaffiro explains that she starts the seeds inside in February under grow lights. When planting comes in early spring, the work begins. She makes a series of holes–9″ deep– with a dowel rod, a device she made herself as suggested by Eliot Coleman. She places each tiny plant in a hole and lets the dirt fall over the baby leek. The buried part of the leek is what stays white and she recommends letting the soil fall naturally and gradually over the leek. Give them plenty of moisture and nutrient rich soil and they’ll be ready in the late summer through the fall.
Leeks are in the Allium family and are very nutritious–good for prevention of cancer and blood vessel problems among other benefits. They’re also a national symbol of Wales.
I asked Louise if being a scientist helped her with her new venture of organic farming–taken up when she was sixty years old. She said it definitely did. Scientists make a habit of record keeping which is important in getting organic certification. She also appreciates the chemistry of fertilizer and the use of the organic fertilizers such as manure and fish meal. These nutrients release nitrogen slowly to the plant which has benefits. One, they don’t leech into the water as ammonia based fertilizers do. They release the nutrients slowly in a form that the plant can use. Two, less nitrogen helps keep pests down. Apparently insects are attracted to crops that get a sudden burst of nitrogen as you’ll get with most commercial fertilizers. Additionally, the organic matter helps the soil form aggregates called peds which allow it to aerate. These peds are destroyed by commercial cultivation.
Zaffiro enjoys her new career. She finds it rewarding and intense with long periods of hard work and no downtime. (It’s not however, as much work as being a beginning teacher.) She likes making a difference in the health of the planet and its citizens and this makes all the work and the stress of a new career worth it.
Here’s my simple recipe, based on one from the Delightfully Dutch cook book:
1 cup of sliced leeks
1 cup of sliced carrots
Boil in 2cups of water until tender.
Drain, saving the water.
Melt 2 tablespoons (or maybe a little more) of butter. Add two heaping tablespoons of flour and mix well. Add water and mix.Add leeks. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Salt and add plenty of pepper. Enjoy!