Yes, it’s almost mid September, and I’m still planting stuff in my garden. Sure, I’ve harvested most of the tender ones already, but some crops thrive in autumn and winter. In addition to the cabbage, kale, and beets I have going out there, I’ve just started some carrots and leeks. Not only are these vegetables ideally suited to cooler weather, they’re also ideal companion plants.
Why Grow Carrots and Leeks Together?
All of my garden beds are crammed full of plants that play well together. Not only does this allow me to grow a ton of food in a small space, but the various crops work symbiotically.
Take the three sisters guild as an example. The three crops work together to feed, nurture, and support one another, resulting in healthier plants and bigger harvests.
Carrots and leeks work together the same way.
First of all, they have the same soil and light requirements. They do best with light, well-drained soil and tons of sunshine. As root crops, carrots can help to break up denser soils, which makes leeks’ tendril-like roots quite happy.
Secondly, they fend off one another’s predators. Carrots tend to suffer from carrot flies (Chamaepsila rosae), which can also plague other root vegetables, as well as celery and parsley. Meanwhile, onion flies (Hylemia antiqua) are particularly fond of leeks.
Guess what? Carrots fend off onion parasites, and vice versa. They’re basically bodyguards for one another because their predators can’t stand the other plant’s scent.
Leeks, and other members of the onion (Allium) family, also repel Japanese beetles and aphids. Both of these pests love carrots and other root vegetables. As a result, not only are you growing delicious ingredients together, you’re helping to keep them safe and healthy.
Ideal for Your Autumn Garden
Avid homesteaders keep growing food right up until the snow is too heavy to wade through. Sure, taking down the garden is a typical September/October chore, but that’s mostly for the tender annuals that die back at this time of year.
Many plants still thrive well in cooler weather, particular root crops like carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, and beets, and brassicas like cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts, and arugula. Although many onion family members are fairly delicate and die off in cooler weather, leeks are spectacularly hardy.
I like to grow Giant Musselburgh leeks, because if they thrive in Scotland, they’ll tend to do well in my chilly little Quebec garden.
Like any other crop, it’s best to grow varieties that have been cultivated in zones and climates similar to your own. Since I’m in zone 4b, the varieties that do best here tend to be from northern and eastern Europe. If you’re in a warmer climate, try French leeks instead: they’re quite tender, and you can likely grow them all through the winter in zones 7 and up.
Use them Together! Carrot Soup à la Normande
This soup isn’t my own recipe, but is adapted from the recipe of the same name in Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila Latourrette.
Naturally, carrots take centre stage, but other vegetable ingredients (such as these lovely leeks) are used for more intricate flavours and textures. In this case, the carrots and leeks balance each other beautifully, without overpowering one another.
- 8 medium orange carrots, peeled and chopped finely
- 2 leeks (white parts only), sliced thinly
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 cup milk (dairy or unsweetened soy, almond, or rice milk)
- 3 tablespoons flour (I use a gluten-free sorghum/potato starch blend)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- A pinch of ground thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Finely minced parsley and chives (optional)
Pour the water into a soup pot, add the carrots and leeks, and slowly bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat and let the soup sit, covered with a lid, for 20 minutes.
Then add the milk, flour, thyme, oil, salt, and pepper. Use an immersion blender to puree everything to an even consistency, or combine in an upright blender and return the contents to the soup pot. Add the lemon juice. Then turn up the heat gently to medium high, and cook slowly for 10-15 minutes, until hot. Do not allow it to boil.
Ladle the hot potage into bowls and garnish with the parsley and chives, if desired. It’s gorgeous with crusty French bread or croutons as well, if you happen to have some at home.
This is a lovely soup that’s perfect for chilly autumn evenings. It also proves that once again, plants that thrive next to one another tend to also pair well in recipes.
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