Nation of Gardeners November planting update: fresh salads in the depths of winter

The winter truly made its presence felt in November with winds, rain, first frosts and generally colder temperatures for many of our Nation of Gardeners.  Most gardeners in our group experienced a hard frost in November with the UK-wide frosts that most residents of the country saw on 24/25 November.

Arrived parcel

For some of our gardeners this was not the first frost though, with the earliest frost being reported in the Peak District on 27 September and Buckinghamshire seeing first frosts on 5 October.   For the rest of our group, it was not until November arrived that they saw their first frosts with Pontypridd leading on 4 November and most of the rest of the gardeners reporting a first frost on 6 November.  Our Devon based gardener experienced no frost at all last winter, but finally was able to report a frost on 24 November.  This winter looks set already to be colder than the last.

November and December is always a quiet time in the year for growing as we enter the true depths of wintry short days, cold overnight temperatures and much reduced light levels.  However, these are perfect conditions for testing seed sowing to its limits!  And so that is what we have asked of our group in November.

 

A round up of November’s planting tasks

Winter Pak Choi - RenfrewshireLast year we asked our Nation of Gardeners to sow winter salads in the cold, dark days of December.  We saw some mixed results from these trials.  The low light levels caused problems for some of the herbs and salads sown – especially the sensitive varieties like basil, or the red salad leaves that needed much more light to develop.  Although some windowsill leaves did well last year, others showed a lack of healthy development of leaves, damping off issues and in the case of the basil, simply a lack of assured germination.

Interestingly for those gardeners who elected to sow salads under cover outside there were better results seen.  Salads sown into pots in coldframes germinated a lot more slowly than their indoor counterparts, but the leaf development was better than the ones sown onto windowsills indoors.

So this year we have brought this task forwards a month with some different varieties to see if we can push the boundaries a little and get better results by asking our gardeners to sow all the salads outdoors under cover.

lindsay_late-sown-salads_7dec2014In the parcel this month, our gardeners found several packets of salad leaves that we asked to be grown as ‘cut and come again’ crops under cloches or other protection over winter.

  • Pak Choi Colour & Crunch F1, which strictly speaking is less of a salad and more of a vegetable.  Although it can be eaten as salad, it can also be used like spinach as an accompaniment or it can be cooked in stir fries, soups and oriental noodle recipes.
  • Mesclun MixedMixed Spicy Salad Leaves and Mixed Mild Salad Leaves were all varieties sown last year indoors on windowsills in December.  Of the few Nation of Gardeners who also elected to sow outside under cloche protection, these did well and so they have been sown outside under cloche or coldframe this year too.
  • The Mixed Oriental Salad Leaves supplied can be used as baby leaves in salads.  More mature leaves can be cooked like Pak Choi.
  • Lettuce Winter Density is a hardy ‘cos’ type lettuce that will produce heads from March, but can also be grown as a cut and come again during winter.
  • And finally we supplied Lettuce Vailan (Winter Gem) – a ‘little gem’ type for greenhouse and cold frame growing.

Pontypridd Winter saladsEveryone sowed their seeds and many saw good germination very quickly for many of the varieties.  Pictured to the right above are the salads grown by our gardener in Devon who has not protected the seedlings yet in an open raised bed, and pictured to the left here in our Pontypridd’s gardener’s seedlings that emerged a week after sowing.

A range of methods were employed with some sowing straight outside to open ground or under cloches, into pots in coldframes and on windowsills to get germination going before transferring outside.  The Winter Lettuce varieties Vailan and Winter Density were slowest to germinate, and for some, showing no germination at all.  As the pictures below show of our gardeners’ sowings in Elgin, Renfrewshire and Cheshire, good germination was seen shortly after sowing.  Our Bristol gardener found that there was peril for her small seedlings however, as she caught birds in the act of pulling them up by their roots and flying off with them, and our Pontypridd gardener reports that something is eating the Vailan and Winter Density seedlings though it is leaving the other varieties alone.

Winter salads

Renfrewshire Woodland Strawberry

We also sent out an unnamed Woodland Strawberry that we received at Mr Fothergill’s from BBC Gardener’s Question Time’s Bob Flowerdew.  Though not a variety in commercial production, we wanted to find out more about these plants and how they performed. Each gardener received two of these plants to try out.

We don’t really know much about this strawberry and so this will be a voyage of discovery for us all!  We believe it to be an ever-bearer type which will crop from July to October (earlier in the south) and we also think it will perform in pots and containers as well as the open ground.   We asked our gardeners to plant the strawberries in a pot and give some winter protection so that we can monitor this variety and formulate an idea of its performance, fruiting habits and flavour next year.

 

October 2013 through to October 2014 updates

Godetia Pontypridd

There was certainly a lot to report earlier in the autumn, with flowers and harvest time crops keeping our gardeners busy.  As we have slipped into the colder months, there is a lot less vigorous growth being seen in the plants we are tending, and harvest time has drawn to a halt.

There are still splashes of colour to be found if you look carefully though such as this handsome Godetia that seems to be undiminished despite being hit by frosts in November.  This picture was taken on 2 December by our Pontypridd-based gardener.

Cheshire Antirrhinum Purple TwistOur Cheshire gardener also posted us this picture to the right of her Antirrhinum Purple Twist making a comeback in late November, long after she thought it might have exhausted itself.  Many of the gardeners have reported how well they think this plant has performed, giving a continuous display of blooms throughout the summer on tall flowering spikes.

The perennials supplied as bare roots in autumn 2013 have put themselves to their wintry beds during November and early December.  We have had some wonderful displays from the Papaver Place Pigalle, Eryngium, Sedum Xenox and Astrantia Moulin Rouge all summer.   Some plants have now faded away entirely such as the Cimicifuga, of which there is no trace once again, whilst plants such as the Sedum Xenox and the Astrantia Moulin Rouge (pictured below) have left their summer ghosts in flower beds that have a faded beauty in their own right.  The group now have to wait to see if these plants will return with even better displays next year.

Fading Astrantia

Our gardeners have been asked to sow winter salads in November, but they are also still munching their way through the leaves they were asked to sow in September.   The ones shown here in Cheshire to the right are still producing baby leaves at the end of November.  If this month’s winter salads grow well, there will be an almost continuous supply for our gardener’s kitchens this year!

Cheshire late sown salads

Of the other crops being grown by our group, the Pea Meteor planted out in October is having very variable results. Many of our gardeners have lost their plants entirely, whilst others still have a good proportion of the plants they put outside the previous month.  The winds the UK has been experiencing has made these surviving specimens look rather ragged, but they are still soldiering on.

In October 2013 we asked our group of gardeners to plant out garlic and broad beans for overwintering.  Some were so impressed by the performance of these varieties planted at that time of year that they have decided to do this for themselves again this year. So, not only do Mr Fothergill’s get to learn from the results by our gardening group, the gardeners themselves are receiving an enrichment to their usual gardening habits.

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