Sunday, 28 December 2014

How to grow Babington's Leek

Babington's Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii) are amazing little plants, I wrote another post on them and thought I should describe how to grow them.  They are edible and perennial and a bit more interesting than a regular leek.  Unfortunately they are on the brink of extinction in Australia and many other parts of the world.  I am selling small bulbils of Babington's leeks in the hope that other people will grow and enjoy them and help them to become less rare.

Here are some notes on how to grow them, please note that I am no expert on Babington's leeks, if something I say does not work feel free to try something else.  If you find some other way to grow them that works better please let me know and I will gladly pass this information on to anyone who wishes to grow them.

This is only a brief description of how to grow Babington's leeks that has worked for me.  For information on how to grow any other perennial vegetables please go to my growing notes page.  To buy Babington's leeks or other perennial vegetables, herbs, heirloom vegetable seeds, water kefir grains or milk kefir grains etc please go to my for sale page.

Babington's Leek bulbs - should flower next year

Growing Babington's Leek from from Bulbs
At this stage I do not have enough plants to sell mature bulbs but figured I would mention it for when your plants are larger or if I ever have enough to sell them too.  This is simple, plant the bulb a few cm deep and give it 15cm to 20cm or so from its nearest neighbour.  Plant it about the depth of the bulb's width, if it is too shallow it will drag itself deeper with the use of contractile roots.  Give it plenty of water, sunlight and mulch.  You should be able to harvest the leek by cutting it near the soil and have it re-sprout, if you get the timing right and the bulb was large enough it should still send up a flower stalk.  Each year if all goes well the underground bulb should divide into 2 or 3 mature bulbs for you and they may grow a few other smaller bulbs too

Babington's Leek will die down to a bulb in summer, it may be possible to convince them to grow through but I have not tried that yet so can not comment.  If storing the bulbs be careful not to leave the bulbs out somewhere to dry out too much, also be careful not to leave them in soil that is too wet as they may rot.

Babington's Leek plant almost ready to flower
Growing Babington's Leek from Plants
If I have too many bulbils left over that sprout I plan to sell them as small plants.  Much like any other variety of leek, plant it reasonably deep to encourage a long white shank.  As above, plant 15cm to 20cm from its nearest neighbour, any closer than this will stunt the plant a little.  Plenty of sun, water and mulch will ensure the fastest growth rate.  During the first year they will be small and may not put on much growth above ground, this is normal.  They will mostly take 2 or 3 years until mature enough to flower.

Babington's leek bulbils - note the small size

Growing Babington's Leek from Bulbils
I mostly sell bulbils of the Babington's leek, these are tiny leek bulbs that have formed on top of the flower stalk.  For this reason I will go into a little more detail in this section.

Each bulbil will most likely be genetically identical to the parent (although slight mutations may occur from time to time).  The bulbils are tiny, probably around the size of a pea but sometimes even smaller.  Bulbils are produced in early Summer but will not grow or do anything until Autumn or Winter.  They are ready when they fall from the flower stalk, I sell them when they are ready and will store and grow anything that is not sold.  If you buy bulbils as soon as they are ready you have two options: you can plant straight away or you can store them for later.  Each method has its merits and dangers, I will try to do a little of each to work out what is best.
Babington's leek bulbils
Storing the bulbils gives you the peace of mind that they will not be eaten by anything or rot in the soil but runs the risk that they will dry out and die.  You also run the risk that they will not be in the soil when they are ready to grow or that they may not receive whatever signal they need in order to resume growth.  Some bulbils will look green, others will develop a brown outer skin.  I assume that the green ones will not cope with storage as well as the brown ones.  I also assume that the brown ones will be less likely to wake up when it is time to grow.

Planting the bulbils immediately runs the risk of rotting or being eaten by earwigs or whatever but also ensures that they will not dry too much and they are ready to grow when they need to grow.  I plant the bulbils a little under the soil surface or sometimes directly on top of the soil in the light.  I have heard that a grower overseas normally plants them 2 inches deep.  I urr on the side of caution, if they are not deep enough they will work it out or I could dig them and replant them when they are larger, if they are too deep they may not have enough energy to reach the sunlight.  It is best to plant them with the growing tip pointing up, quite often it is difficult to tell which way is up and in these instances it is best to plant them on their side.  Planted on their side they will work it out, planted upside down they may die.

No matter what you chose to do the bulbils will not do a great deal of anything until Autumn or even Winter/Spring.  Occasionally they may begin to grow in late Summer but only if the weather is cool.   Babington's leeks are often rather small looking plants in their first year and the next season are far larger.  The bulbils will often take 2 to 3 years to be mature enough to flower, that being said if they are very happy they can flower in their first year.
Babbington's leek, bulbils developing on the flower head

Growing Babington's leeks is simple
While it sounds like a lot of work it isn't, most people who grow Babington's leeks have a patch of them and pretty much ignore them other than to harvest them and to marvel at their amazing flower head.  Often overseas growers (I do not know any other Australian growers) tell me that Babington's leeks thrive on neglect.  I figured I would go into a bit of detail so that you have the best chances of harvesting leeks as soon as possible.  I also want to make sure that if someone buys Babington's leeks from me that they know what to expect and do not rip the plants out when they have not flowered in the first year from bulbils.  The pictures of the bulbils next to the measuring tape will help to ensure that if anyone buys bulbils from me that they know exactly what they are buying.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask, while I may not know the answer I will do my best to tell you what works and does not work for me.


  1. Thanks for sharing this information. I had not realized how rare it was until l started looking for growing information.

  2. Hi Linda,

    yes, we were lucky that they did not die out in Australia as we would not have been able to get them back. They are pretty hardy and relatively productive, so hopefully home gardeners start to grow them a bit more often.