If you want to eat fresh home grown salads throughout the winter August is the time to sow the seed.
There are a range of salad leaves that are hardy enough to survive an average winter. These include:
- Winter hardy lettuces varieties. ‘Winter Density’ is a cos type and ‘Valdor’ a good butter-leaf variety.
- Asian greens such mizuna, mibuna and spicy mustard leaf.
- Other unusual leaves such as lambs lettuce, land cress and winter purslane (Claytonia perfoliata) which is extremely productive.
The correct date for sowing winter salads is critical. Plant growth virtually stalls during the coldest months, December, January and February. If the plants are to survive and provide a worthwhile harvest they need to have reached a reasonable size before the onset of winter. However, you do not want to sow the seed so early that the plants flower and bolt during the autumn. Flowering is usually accompanied by a decrease in leaf production and possibly increased bitterness.
Seeds that are sown now (August) will germinate quickly because the soil is warm, they will bulk up in the autumn but then stop growing during the winter months. At this point the plants can be harvested. If they survive the winter they will then probably grow a flush of new leaves during the spring before they stop growing and produce flowers.
All the plants listed above are hardy and will survive a typical winter. However they will be more productive if you provide protection from the worst of the weather in the form of a cloche, cold frame, polytunnel or greenhouse. In the Edible Garden at the Botanics we have a fantastic polytunnel funded by Players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Here volunteers grow a range of salad leaves that supply the Gateway restaurant throughout the year.
The main problem at this time of year is finding space in the vegetable garden, especially the polytunnel or greenhouse, for winter salads. If you are clearing crops such as peas, beans, onions and garlic act quickly and sow the seed directly into the soil. Here at the Botanics we sow most of our winter salads into modular plug trays or pots so they are ready to plant out as soon as the summer crops have finished. Make sure you give the plants enough room to grow. Fungi and moulds are particularly prevalent in polytunnels and greenhouses during the winter months. If there is sufficient space between the plants they are less likely to spread mould from one to another.