As the summer draws to a close, bare earth begins to appear in the vegetable garden, and we are always keen to keep as much of it as possible green with growth.
Apart from garlic, over-wintering onions and broad beans, which you plant in October, you may like to take a chance on growing some winter salads outdoors. Many are best sown in August, but if the weather is mild, here are some crops to try:
Mizuna is the fastest growing plant outdoors, with juicy, mild flavoured leaves. Leaves grow fast and you can decide whether to pick them large or small, which depends partly on your spacing. Like most oriental cabbage leaves, it will flower in March or April, and the flower head is tasty too.
Pak choi is famous with all stir fry addicts, but on a cut and come again basis is a delicious salad leaf. It is adored by slugs, and not frost hardy, but if you sow under fleece or a tree you may get a decent crop within six weeks before they get eaten.
Tatsoi is similar but smaller than pak choi, and slightly hardier. It is a mainstay of our winter salads, and a prolific producer in warmer spells.
Rocket is a favourite winter leaf of mine. Wild rocket has a stronger flavour, salad rocket has larger leaves. Keep picking the ever smaller leaves into April as it rises to flower with pretty white flowers.
Mustards add a bit of heat to the salad bowl, the smaller the leaf you pick, the milder the flavour. Variety ‘Green in Snow’ is a hardy variety.
American land cress may get going if sown early in September, and is a perfectly hardy plant which produces plenty of mildly mustardy leaves in an attractive rosette on an 8″ spacing.
With all these plants, the wider your spacing, the bigger the leaves on each plant. If they are kept warm under fleece, they should grow stronger. And if you can sow under the shelter of a tree or fleece or, best of all, in a greenhouse or cold frame, then the greater the yield. Yields will be lowest in December and January, but will pick up logarithmically in early spring.
You can sow a packet of mixed oriental leaves if you don’t mind what you get, and may have some nice surprises. Most of these packets have a mixture of the ones above, and perhaps one or two more. A flick through some of the seed catalogues will show just how many new varieties there are coming on to the market in response to everyone wanting greens in the long winter months.
Although it is already late to be planting out of doors, you have nothing to lose, and may be lucky to have regular salads through the winter.