Posts Tagged ‘allotment gardening’

4 Super Hardy Salad Leaves to Grow in Winter

October 8th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

4 Super Hardy Salad Leaves to Grow in Winter. Lamb's lettuce, or corn salad, growing in rows in soil.

Salads may be the epitome of sunny summer days, but there’s a lesser-known band of salad leaves full of interesting flavours and textures that will faithfully offer fresh pickings for winter. Able to withstand frost and standing firm through the grim weather, they are hardy souls most definitely worth growing. Read on or watch the video to discover four of the very best super-hardy winter salad leaves.

Why Grow Winter Salad Leaves?

Fresh leaves in the depths of winter are a real treat. While they won’t give masses of pickings, what they do produce is truly appreciated. Then as the weather warms up in spring, harvests come thick and fast – at a time when there’s very little else to pick.

Sow winter salad leaves in late summer or early autumn so they go into winter at just the right size – big enough to survive the chill but not so big that lush growth is clobbered by hard frosts.

Most winter salad leaves can grow outside in mild or temperate climates, but you’ll get more leaves if you can offer some protection from the weather, for example by using a hoop house or by growing salads in a greenhouse or tunnel.

What to Grow

Here’s our pick of the hardiest and most reliable winter salads:

1. Mache, aka Lamb’s Lettuce or Corn Salad

Mache, which also goes by the names lamb’s lettuce or corn salad, produces tender leaves with a smooth texture. This is the hardiest salad leaf of our quartet and grows very well outdoors.

2. Land Cress

Land cress, sometimes known as American cress, has rich, dark leaves that taste similar to watercress. It’s one of the quickest winter salad crops, giving leaves to pick as soon as eight weeks from sowing.A close up of winter purslane salad leaves with little white flowers, AKA miner's lettuce or claytonia

3. Claytonia, aka Miner’s Lettuce or Winter Purslane

Claytonia, also called miner’s lettuce or winter purslane, grows soft, succulent leaves and, come spring, tiny white flowers that also make for good eating. Use it in salads or cook it as an alternative to spinach.

4. Watercress

You don’t need running water to grow watercress, so long as you can ensure the soil it’s growing in is consistently damp, which shouldn’t be too difficult in winter! The mildly peppery leaves of watercress make it salad royalty.

Direct Sowing Winter Salads

Winter salad leaves are well suited to sowing direct into ground recently vacated by summer crops. Remove any weeds first, as they might smother your plants, then rake the soil to a fine tilth.

Mark out drills according to the instructions on the seed packet. Depending on what you’re sowing, rows will be spaced between 9-12 inches (22-30cm) apart. Sow the seeds very thinly, then water them. Once they’re up, thin the seedlings in stages until plants are about 6-8 inches (15-20cm) apart within the row.

Sowing Winter Salads into Plug Trays

Winter salad leaves are also prime candidates for starting off in plug trays. At sowing time the ground is often still occupied by summer crops, but sow into plug trays and your salad leaves may be started off away from the vegetable garden, giving earlier crops a chance to finish. Plug trays also reduce the risk of slug damage at the vulnerable seedling stage and produce sturdy young plants able to outcompete weeds.

Fill trays with general-purpose potting soil then firm it in, adding a little more if needed. Firming in the potting soil creates small depressions in each of the plugs, which are ideal for sowing into. Drop about two seeds into each plug. Some seeds like claytonia are tiny, so don’t worry if you end up with more – you can always thin out the seedlings after they’ve germinated to leave just the strongest in each plug.

Once you’re done sowing, cover the seeds with a very thin layer of more potting soil, then label your tray so you don’t forget what you’ve sown – essential if you’re sowing more than one type of plant in a tray! Water the tray with a gentle spray, or place plugs into trays of water to soak it up from below. Remove trays from the water once they’re ready.

Grow the seedlings on until the roots have filled their plugs, when it’s time to plant them. If the ground is still occupied by other crops, you can re-pot into bigger pots or plug trays, buying you another week or two before planting outside.

A close up of watercress salad leaves with drops of water on the leaves, taken from abovePlanting Winter Salads

Set your winter salad leaves out at the recommended spacing. Planting in a block, so plants are the same distance apart in both directions, is perhaps easiest. Allow 7 inches (17cm) both ways for mache, 8 inches (20cm) for claytonia, and 9 inches (22cm) for land cress and watercress. Dig holes into prepared soil, enriched with organic matter such as compost if it’s likely to have needed a boost after summer, then pop the young plants in. Fill the soil back around them, firm in and water.

Wonderful Watercress

Watercress may be grown like any other winter salad, but a handy alternative is to sow the tiny seeds into containers of potting soil.

Scatter seeds thinly across the surface, then cover with a very fine layer of more potting soil. Containers must be kept moist at all times or the seedlings will quickly die. Once stems have reached about 4in (10cm) high, you an begin harvesting either individual leaves or clusters of stems.

Caring for Winter Salads

Weeds and slugs are the enemies of winter salads – keep on top of both. Slug traps filled with beer to attract them work to a point, but keeping growing areas clear of weeds and debris, while planting at the correct spacing, should do a lot to deter slugs.

How to Harvest Winter Salads

Harvest leaves once plants have formed mounded clumps. Cut stems with a sharp knife, taking care to leave the lowest leaves and those towards the centre untouched so they can continue to grow. As growth picks up in spring, so do the harvests and how much you can remove from plants on each occasion.

By mid-spring plants will be flowering. Young flower stalks may be eaten but in time they will become tough. At this point it’s time to dig up and remove winter salad crops to make way for your summer staples.

If you thought winter meant time to retire the vegetable garden till spring, think again. Winter salad leaves will keep the fresh pickings coming. Are you growing some of these sensational salad crops this winter? What are you growing and how? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Radishes from Sowing to Harvest

September 18th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Radishes from Sowing to Harvest

What’s the most opportunistic crop you could possibly grow? For us it’s the humble, lowly radish – or rather the rousing, ravishing radish! Squeeze a sneaky row or two between larger vegetables. Sow them around crops that are about to finish. Grow them in pots, or squeeze in an extravagantly early or late harvest of these peppery roots. They’re super fast, super flexible – oh, and super yummy! So let’s crack on and sow some! Read on or watch the video to find out how.

Where to Grow Radishes

Because of their size and speed, radishes may be grown just about anywhere. Ready to enjoy in as little as four weeks and taking up minimal space, perhaps their best use is as a fill-in crop, either between or within rows of slow-to-germinate vegetables such as parsnip, or as a quick in-and-out crop right at the start or end of the growing season.

Radishes prefer full sun but grow well in part shade too and in hot climates will prefer full shade in the height of summer. Keep the soil moist and you’ll be rewarded with clusters of mildly peppery roots in next to no time.

Sowing Early Season Radishes

Seeds sown into a plug tray with modules filled with potting mixBegin sowing under cover from late winter, either direct into containers of potting soil or into greenhouse borders, or into plug trays of general purpose potting mix.

Fill plug trays with potting mix, firm down then sow a pinch of three to five seeds per module. Cover with a little more of the potting mix then water. If it’s especially cold, you’ll need to germinate them indoors then move them back into a greenhouse or cold frame as soon as the seedlings appear. After a couple of weeks of sheltered growth, and once the seedlings have filled out their modules, they’ll be ready to plant out under row covers or hoop houses.

Plant into soil earlier enriched with well-rotted compost or manure and raked to a fine tilth. Remove the clusters of seedlings from their modules then make a hole for each plug. Drop in the plug and firm it into position so each cluster is about 6in or 15cm apart in both directions. Cover the seedlings with row cover or horticultural fleece, secured at the edges, until the weather warms up.

Sowing Radishes Direct

Of course, sowing radishes directly where they are to grow is the easiest way to start them off. As cool-season crops, some radishes can germinate at temperatures as low as 41 Fahrenheit or 5 degrees Celsius. Sow from very early spring, initially under row covers or hoop houses, spacing rows about 8in or 20cm apart. Sow thinly along the row – ideally so seeds end up spaced around half an inch or one centimeter apart. Water if it’s dry then, about a week after germination, thin the seedlings to leave them an inch or 2cm apart within the row.

Sow a row or two every couple of weeks during the growing season to maintain a steady supply of roots, fitting them in wherever there’s space.

Grow Some Radishes for Winter

Close up of leafy white daikon mooli radishes in the groundMany hardy radishes can be sown towards the end of summer to give an autumn or early winter harvest of roots. Sowing regular red, round or white-tipped radishes into containers is a great way to extend the season – by simply bringing pots under cover when the weather turns cold.

Another option is to grow bigger winter or Asian varieties of radish, which naturally prefer cooler temperatures. Most popular is the daikon or Japanese mooli radish. Look out for Chinese and Korean varieties too – all with a mild flavour ideal for salads but also great in soups and stews. Then there’s the stunning watermelon radish, or the chunky, spicy Spanish Black radish whose peppery tang holds up well in stir-fries.

Winter radishes are leafier than their summer cousins. The spicy leaves may be used like spinach, wilted into hot dishes or even whizzed up in a pesto.

Sow winter radishes a little further apart, so rows are at least a foot or 30cm distant, then thin the seedlings to leave at least a couple of inches or 5cm between each plant.

Caring for Radishes

Keep on top of weeds because radishes don’t like competition. Thinning seedlings and harvesting the first A close up of two flea beetles on a leafroots are good opportunities to hoik out weeds at the same time. And make sure to water thoroughly once or twice a week in dry weather to stop the roots from becoming woody and unbearably peppery.

Radishes may attract flea beetles from spring to midsummer. You’ll probably not see the flea beetles themselves but you’ll know they are there by the numerous tiny holes pitted into the leaves. Avoid this damage by covering radishes with row covers or fine insect mesh, or by simply delay sowing till the second half of summer.

How to Harvest Radishes

Harvest roots as soon as they have reached their final size. Don’t delay, as they can go from crisp and crunchy to woody and excessively spicy within a matter or days. Lift the biggest roots each time you harvest, so the remainder can continue to swell.

Winter radishes take up to ten weeks to mature but once ready can be left where they are to lift as needed, so long as the ground doesn’t freeze solid. Or lift them, cut off the foliage then store in the refrigerator, where they should keep for up to a month.

If you’re looking for something both trouble-free and a genuine pleasure to grow, radishes should be right up your street. Root out your radish anecdotes – how do you fit them into your garden? Have you tried growing winter radishes? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page, we’d love to know.

Growing Salad Onions from Sowing to Harvest

August 29th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Salad Onions from Sowing to Harvest

They’re fresh, fast and fabulous in salads, stir-fries, quiches and savoury tarts. We’re talking about salad onions, also known as scallions, spring onions or green onions. Whatever you call them, they’re great for fitting in wherever there’s space and will give you a harvest of peppery stems in as little as eight weeks.

Salad onions are also one of those crops that can be sown in late summer to give one of the earliest harvests next spring. So let’s get on and grow some! Read on or watch the video to find out how.

Where to Grow Salad Onions

Like their bulb-forming cousins, salad onions prefer a sunny, open site and fertile, well-drained soil. For best results, grow them in soil that’s been improved with regular additions of well-rotted organic matter such as compost.

A close up of spring onions growing in a container on a windowsillThese tall, thin plants don’t take up much space, so they’re ideal for containers, or be opportunistic and grow them between rows of slower growing vegetables such as parsnips until they need the extra space. Another option is to grow them with carrots, where they may help to reduce problems with carrot fly.

When to Sow Salad Onions

Start sowing under cover from late winter, then continue outside from spring. Sow short rows every three to four weeks to give a steady supply of stems. Your last sowings, made at the very end of summer using a winter hardy variety, will be ready to harvest early next season.

How to Sow Salad Onions

Sow seeds directly where they are to grow or into containers of potting soil to transplant later on.

Direct sow seeds into finely-raked soil. Mark out a drill about half an inch (1cm) deep. Use a string line if you prefer neat, straight rows. Additional rows should be spaced about 4in (10cm) apart. If it’s hot and dry, water along the rows before sowing. This creates a cooler environment around the seeds, helping them to germinate.

Sow the seeds thinly along the rows then pinch the drill closed to cover the seeds. Alternatively, backfill the rows with potting soil. This is useful if your soil isn’t as fine and crumbly as you’d like at sowing time, and also helps rows to stand out clearly from the surrounding soil for the purposes of weeding. Once you’re done, label the rows and water thoroughly.

Sowing into containers helps to make the best use of your available space because you can start seedlings off while the ground is still occupied by a growing crop. By starting plants off under the protection of a greenhouse, tunnel or cold frame you’ll be able to start sowing up to six weeks sooner at the beginning of the growing season.

The easiest method is to use plug trays. Fill your plug trays with a general-purpose potting mix then firm the mix down into the modules with your fingertips. Sow a pinch of four to eight seeds per module then cover them with more potting mix. Water and keep the potting soil moist as the seedlings appear and grow on.

Planting Salad Onions

Transplant the clusters of seedlings as soon as they have filled their modules and you can see roots at the drainage holes. Carefully ease the plugs from the tray then plant them into prepared soil so each cluster is 2-4in (5-10cm) apart within the row, with rows spaced at least 4in (10cm) apart. Water the young plants to settle the soil around the rootball.

Caring for Salad Onions

A bunch of spring onions laid down on a wooden ledge, freshly harvested from an allotmentDirect sown salad onions shouldn’t need much thinning but if there are any overly thick clusters of seedlings, remove some of the excess to leave about half an inch (1cm) between plants.

Remove weeds as they appear to prevent them from overwhelming your plants. Salad onions are shallow-rooting, so water in dry weather to speed growth and minimise the risk of plants bolting, or flowering prematurely.

Salad onions are rarely bothered by pests but birds can sometimes peck at the emerging seedlings, particularly early on in the season. Cover sown areas and seedlings with row covers if this proves to be a problem.

How to Harvest Salad Onions

Salad onions are typically ready to enjoy 10 to 12 weeks after sowing, though at the height of the growing season it can be as soon as 8 weeks. Harvest the largest plants first so that those left can continue to grow. This way you can extend and maximise your harvest.

Store your salad onions in the refrigerator or slice them up to pack into freezer bags or containers to add to recipes whenever you need a boost of fresh flavour.

Salad onions are reliable, versatile and downright delicious – we wouldn’t be without them, that’s for sure! What about you? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

July 4th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

Squashes are notoriously prolific, but sometimes they need a bit of help to get started. If your plants are flowering like mad but not producing fruits, it’s time to start hand-pollinating them to speed things along.

Read on or watch the video and we’ll show you how to do it.

Why Hand Pollinate?

Hand pollination is a useful technique when there aren’t many natural pollinators such as bees around – either because it’s cold or rainy, or because crops are growing under cover in a greenhouse or tunnel. Hand pollinating is also a simple and effective way to boost your yields, ensuring good fruit set for a reliable harvest.

All types of squashes can be hand pollinated including pumpkins, melons and courgette.

Male vs Female Squash Flowers

Squashes have separate male and female flowers. Before we hand pollinate we need to know exactly which is which.

Male squash flowers have a straight stem behind the bloom with no swelling. Peer inside the flower and you can see the stamen, which carry the pollen. This is where you’ll take the pollen from to fertilise the female bloom.

Close up of a female courgette flower on the vegetable patchThe female flowers have a very obvious swelling behind them. This is the immature fruit, which will begin growing once it has been pollinated. Peek inside a female flower and you can clearly make out the stigma, which is where the pollen needs to be in order to fertilise the bloom.

When you compare male and female flowers side by side it’s easy to see the differences.

How to Hand Pollinate

A soft-bristled artist’s paintbrush is ideal for pollinating squash blossoms. Use it to tickle pollen from the stamen of a male flower onto the brush. You should be able to see the yellow pollen on the brush end. Once you’ve done this, transfer it onto the stigma of a female flower by gently stroking the brush over it. And that’s it!

If you don’t have a paintbrush, you can simply detach the male flower from the plant then peel back the petals to expose the stamen and its pollen. Now, carefully dab the pollen onto the stigma of an open female flower to pollinate it.

Saving Seed

Hand pollination is also useful when you want to save seeds of your favourite varieties. Squashes readily cross-pollinate with each other, so the only way to guarantee that seeds will produce plants that are the same variety as their parents is to prevent pollination by insects. You can then hand-pollinate to ensure that only pollen from plants of the same variety reaches the female flower.

You don’t need to isolate the whole plant, just one or two female blooms that will carry your seed. Cover the flower with a light, breathable fabric such as muslin. Tie the fabric around the stem at the back so the flower is completely enclosed. Then, when it opens, remove the fabric and hand pollinate. Return the cover once you’re done and keep it in place until the flower drops off and there’s no further risk of cross-pollination. Mark the stem of the developing fruit with a ribbon so you know from which fruits to collect your seeds.

In situations where squashes are reluctant to produce fruits, hand pollination is a very useful techinque to know. How are your squashes getting on this summer? Are they romping away, or in need of a little encouragement? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.