On pearls of the garden

IMG_2623Leek blossom

It doesn’t often happen, but on occasion, those plants that you sacrifice for their seeds give you gifts other than seeds.  It’s certainly true with leeks.

P1000712Bag of seedheads along with browned-out, unpromising stalks

Sure:  let that beautiful green lance of leaves go to seed for you.  It shoots up a thick center leaf in March or April of its second year.  There goes that edible stalk, as the plant now has other plans, and the stalk becomes woodier by the day.  A seed head will appear in mid June, a gigantic lollipop of a blossom, changing colors from purple to white to green to brown.  It’s a veritable firework of bloom, alternating on and off, pollinating itself as it goes.  Eventually, in August or so, the seeds are all uniformly brown, and the five foot tall stem will begin likewise to brown and thin out.  Time to get out the clippers, the bag, and…the second meal plan for that leek!

P1000713Peel away some of the outer leaves at the base, and voila, pearls

These little bulbs found at the stalk of the plant are called leek pearls.  Genetically identical to the parent plant, they can be planted and grown for seeds too if the parent plant should fail on you.  But honestly, you should be more greedy.  These pearls are just like they sound:  crisp-crunchy, mellow leeky bulblets.  Elephant garlic is actually a leek grown for its bulb-forming, not leaf-forming, potential; leek pearls are similar to that, yet mellower somehow.  Happier.

P1000717They need to be scrubbed, but what a feast.  The one at the far left will be replanted, as it’s sprouting.

13 responses to “On pearls of the garden

  1. That’s very cool, I had no idea! The blossoms are gorgeous, but I bet those pearls are even better.

  2. I’ve got to clip seeds, and now I will look down also!

  3. That is excellent information.

  4. And aren’t leek blossoms just GORGEOUS?!?

  5. Gee, I had read somewhere that you could eat the leek bulblets, but I thought that you were supposed to clip out the flower stem when it arose and then harvest the bulbils in the fall (Did I read that in Four-Season Harvest? Wish I could remember…). At any rate, I have a few leeks that blossomed, I will be sure to dig them up. Thanks for the tip!

  6. I was overwhelmed this spring with tending trays of allium seedlings. The leeks fell by the wayside. I am determined to have a successful leek planting, especially after seeing some of the huge specimens in community gardens here.

  7. When I first started to read this post, I thought that I’d love to get a bouquet of leek blossoms for a special occasion! 🙂
    But now I am just thinking of all the possibilities from the leeks (which I love) and wish I had planted some to have the chance to taste the bulblets

  8. I think my head may explode with all the farm-y things I’ve learned from reading your blog! Merci.

  9. Leeks are one my favorite vegetables for fall & winter, but I don’t save seeds. One more reason to do it now: leek pearls, who knew???

  10. I have found my new mission in life. I dedicate myself to growing leek pearls!

  11. Cheryl, well, they’re great, but yeah, they’re also fairly precious.

    Consider it a bonus, Stef!

    Glad you think so, Pamela.

    Yes! Gorgeous, don’t you think, Milkweedy? AND I love the feeling of all those little seeds atop their stalk.

    Karen, I can see the pearls getting bigger if you clipped the seedhead but really the pearls would just turn into seedheads too. It’s kind of like a perennial plant propagated by division this way. Maybe I should grow a bed of leeks: what do you think?

    Ed, well, my onion season was just bad, but my leeks always do so well…plus, their taste is more subtle, less pedestrian. Always good. SO: try it!

    MC, they’re good at all phases, which I rather like. No real need to “wait” for them to ripen. But yeah, add it to your list of things to grow next year!

    CC, MY head is always on the verge, believe me. I am only covering veg-related stuff too when frankly there’s so much more to discuss!

    Sylvie, well, yeah, it’s another reason to grow your own, too. I doubt anyone would ever sell them in a farmer’s market. But: I have plenty of seeds!

    Emily, hah! Yeah, they’re quite wonderful, and rare.

  12. Hah, I have a whole section of my garden that I let go wild with leek blossoms. Love’em, but never ate the bulbs. I’m going right out and dig some up, though. I have interspersed some all over the garden, though — they look great with black cohosh spears.

  13. Hah, Sharon! I hope you looked for the pearls, they’re quite wonderful, very delicate.

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