Monday, 26 October 2009

Winter Salads

Can it really be possible? Salad leaves all winter through? Well it has to be worth a try.

A quick scan of the seed company catalogues will give you more choices than you can shake a stick at. I decided to plump for mostly 'cut & come again' leaves with one heart forming lettuce - the king of winter lettuces - Lettuce Valdor (seeds shown above).

I filled four Home Allotment Willow Planters with John Innes no 3 and topped off with a couple of inches of no. 2. The John Innes compost system is a long standing favorite of gardeners - they are soil based composts which unlike peat ones (or peat substitute) are much easier to 'wet' again if you have (shock horror) let them dry out. There's a different 'number' for each stage of growing - I picked no.2 to help the seedlings get off to a good start and layered it on top of No. 3 which the established roots will grow down into.

The no. 2 was sieved through a potting riddle to get rid of any big bits - imagine a tiny seedling trying to push one of these boulders out of the way.

At last the sowing - I broadcast the seeds, sprinkling them all over the surface of the Planters, rather than planting in lines as you might in a traditional veg patch.

A firm growing platform is best for seeds - I used a tamper to gently compact and level the surface of the soil before covering the seeds with a thin layer of riddled compost.

Labelling (variety and date) - almost the last thing on the list - and so important for tracking which varieties do well and how long they take till you can start eating them.

Finally, watered my new crop-to-be and with a bit of luck, Bob'll be my uncle.

For the record, this is what went in the planters:

Herb Burnett: Will grow to 30cm and has a fresh cucumber taste. Leaves can also be used as a tonic tea, said to be good for the skin.

Lettuce Valdor: Actively loves the cold. A butterhead variety said to be the King of winter lettuces - should be ready for harvest by early spring.

Land Cress: I've never even heard of this before - apparently tastes very much like watercress but with a smaller leaf. Likes cool, moist conditions and should be ready to eat in 8 weeks!

Golden Purslane: Green leaves on beautiful red stems. Use as a salad leaf when young (8-10cm high) or allow to grow bigger and use the stems in stir fries.

Corn Salad: A lamb's lettuce that should grow prolifically over the winter. Pick a few leaves at a time from each plant.

Texsel Greens: A fast growing leaf developed from Ethiopian mustard. Tastes a bit like spinach - actually can be cooked like spinach if you let the leaves mature a little.

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