This year is the first year that we have been eating our own salad all through the Winter on our Smallholding. Some of that was deliberate, and some occurred by chance, but it’s something that any gardener can do.
The thought of growing Winter Salad hadn’t really occurred to me until late last year. Up until then, I had grown root vegetables for storing, and Brassicas to harvest fresh. This was supplemented by frozen vegetables,and chutney, so there wasn’t really a need. I was then recommended a book about Winter Salad growing by a friend who lives in France. The book was Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman. It’s a good book, well worth reading. Unfortunately I didn’t get the book until late September, by which time, most of the Winter Salads should have already been putting on growth. The problem is that in the UK the light levels are pretty low over Winter, so even if you can provide protection from the weather, growth is still limited by lack of light. I planted salad anyway, and it put on some growth until November and then slowed down.
To fill in the gap, I sprouted seeds. This became essential as I decided to eat predominately raw (live) food in early January, probably the worst time of year to start. I found most of the sprouts a bit bitter, but wheat sprouts, eaten young, are fantastic. Lentils are good too.
Whilst growth of the salad crops was slow, it did go on, and it became possible to harvest a leaf or two from individual plants to make up a meal. Mibuna was particularly good, especially planted directly into soil in the greenhouse (unheated). There were also a fair amount of wild leaves to pick, especially where sheltered in our hedgerows.
One benefit of the late planting is that now we have lots of salad growing well, far ahead of the stuff that has been planted this year. Some of it is planted in the greenhouse, where the rising temperatures are causing the Mibuna to flower. This will be closely followed by the Wild Rocket (Aragula?). The same plants, now outside in pots, are still putting on lots of leaf growth. I only discovered last year that Wild Rocket is a Perennial, so I left some in the beds, and despite dying back, they’re putting on growth now, allbeit hindered by slugs. With Rocket so expensive to buy, I intend to keep on adding it to the beds. Less work and tastier than lettuce. Another plant really earning its keep is Welsh Onion. It is a perennial bunching onion, and it has stood all Winter long. It can be split and spread around, and it spreads by setting seed. Another plant that I will grow more of. It can be a bit strong to eat raw, unless you like a strong taste, but it is very sweet when fried. The strong flavour may only be during Winter, as I don’t recall it being so strong before.
My plan for next year is to do a combination of early Winter sowing, to allow me to harvest full grown salad plants throughout the Winter, followed by a later sowing, to give me an early Smallholding Spring Salad crop.