It is often thought that with the end of summer, comes the end of growing outdoors and there is little to be done with gardening clubs in schools. Don’t be fooled, there are plenty of crops and hardy varieties you can grow throughout the colder months, enabling the students to see how plants respond to the changing of the seasons and the contrasting needs of different varieties in winter compared to summer planting.
Many people grow their own salad in the summer, but not many people give winter salads the attention they deserve. The good news is that the growing methods used are very similar and that, with a few small adjustments, you can grow tasty salads in the garden all year round. Choose from hardy varieties of your favourite summer lettuce, or experiment with more unusual winter salad crops such as Texsel greens and salad burnet. For a continuous supply, sow a few seeds every four weeks.
Good drainage is essential for growing winter salad as the seedlings will simply freeze if left standing in pools of water. Choose a sheltered, sunny position when deciding where to grow your salad as it’s important that the seedlings are protected from cold winter winds.
Sow between late August and mid-November. Regular sowings will ensure that you have a good continuous crop.
Sow seeds in short, shallow rows. Cover with soil, label and water.
If a sharp dip in temperature is predicted (particularly overnight), consider covering your seeds with a cloche or fleece to protect them.
Winter salads traditionally have a strong, robust flavour that can sometimes be a little bitter. If you find that your salad leaves are too bitter for your tastes, try blanching the leaves by covering the plants with an upturned flowerpot. Left like this for a few days before harvesting, the leaves will become paler and less bitter.
Hardy Varieties that will stand up to the winter chill and produce fresh green leaves for you in the colder months…
- Lettuce ‘Arctic King’ – This large ‘butterhead’ lettuce is light green, crunchy and exceptionally hardy. Sow by mid September for best results, or later under glass.
- Lettuce ‘Valdor’ – This dark green lettuce has a tight core of leaves and is very hardy. Sow in September and October for picking 10-12 weeks later.
- Texsel Greens – Also known as Ethiopian greens, this fast-growing salad plant can be sown until the end of October, or later under glass. The leaves taste similar to spinach and can be used in the same way.
- Salad Burnet – The leaves of this perennial have a cucumber flavour and are good in salads. Harvest frequently for a steady supply of tender leaves.
- Land cress – An excellent substitute for watercress, this plant can be picked around eight weeks after sowing. It’s not entirely frost-resistant though, so cover the plants with a cloche or fleecing if the temperature drops.