Posts Tagged ‘winter growing’

Growing Autumn Salad Leaves from Sowing to Harvest

September 21st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Early autumn, with its often hazy mornings and cooling temperatures, signals change is in the air. Many of summer’s staples are winding down and growth all over the garden is noticeably slower.

But if you think it is time to hang up the fork for winter, well think again – because now’s the moment Oriental leaves such as bok choy, mustards and mizuna really come into their own.

Give it a try! Read on or watch the video to discover how to grow them.

Types of Oriental Leaves

Oriental leaves offer a fascinating range of leaf shapes, textures and flavours. Enjoy smooth and creamy leaves from rosette-forming tatsoi or bok choy (also known as pak choi), the crunch of Chinese cabbage or the narrow or deeply serrated leaves of mibuna and mizuna. And then there’s the intriguing range of spicy mustards: frilly, spoon-shaped, red-veined, red-leaved – even golden!

Where to Grow Oriental Leaves

Cool-season Oriental leaves are best sown in the last weeks of summer to grow on into autumn and beyond, making them ideal for following on from earlier crops.

Sow direct into prepared ground, or start them off in module trays to plant out a few weeks later. Most are pretty hardy and will continue to give some leaves for cutting throughout winter, especially if provided some protection in the form of a greenhouse or hoop house.

Don’t forget other winter-hardy salads too, including mache or corn salad, and miner’s lettuce or winter purslane.

Oriental leaves grow well in pots, troughs and trays too, either as individual plants or sown as a mixture of different leaves and/or varieties, to give a tasty explosion of flavours in one handy container.

Early-autumn-is-when-Oriental-leaves-such-as-bok-choy-or-pak-choi-really-come-into-their-own

When to Sow Oriental Leaves

Oriental leaves are brassicas that often bolt, or flower, as days lengthen earlier on in the season. Sowing them from the second half of summer avoids this problem and there are fewer pests, such as flea beetle, about too.

Sowings earlier in the year may be made – just be prepared to pick the leaves very often to slow bolting, when the plants push up flower stems and leaf production ceases. Plants grown in part-shaded locations are often slower to bolt too, while sowing every few weeks should ensure a steady supply of usable leaves at this tricky time of year.

How to Sow Oriental Leaves

Prepare the ground for sowing or planting by sprinkling over a general-purpose organic fertiliser, then raking it in to leave a fine, crumbly surface.

To sow, mark out drills about 1/2 inch (1cm) deep. Space rows 6 to 10 inches (15-25cm) apart. Sow seeds thinly along the drills then cover back over. Water well if it’s dry. Once germinated, thin the seedlings in stages to their final spacings. For most plants that’s 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) apart, depending on what you’re growing.

Sowing into module trays before planting out has some advantages. You can start plants off while the final growing area is still occupied by another crop, and tender seedlings are at less risk of slug damage. Fill trays with multi-purpose potting soil, firm it down with your fingertips then sow one or two seeds into each cell. Cover with more potting soil, water and place the tray somewhere bright to germinate. The seedlings are ready to plant out about a month later.

Seed mixes, sown into their final containers for cut-and-come-again picking, should be scattered evenly onto potting soil before covering with more of the same. The seedlings shouldn’t need thinning.

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Planting Out

Plant module-raised seedlings at their final spacings. Carefully remove plants from their plugs then lay them onto prepared ground. Use a dibber or similar to make the holes, then position and firm the plants into place. If it’s dry, be sure to thoroughly water after planting.

Caring for Oriental Leaves

Weed between plants to keep them free of competition – particularly important during the colder, darker months of the year. Slugs can be a nuisance, readily rasping holes into tender leaves. Pick them off at dusk or set up slug traps filled with beer and remove the slugs you trap.

Protect plants grown earlier in the year from flea beetle by enclosing newly sown beds with row covers or insect mesh. You can hamper overwintering flea beetles by forking over the soil surface and clearing leaf litter from surrounding areas in early winter. Netting or mesh will also keep pigeons from pecking plants to pieces.

In cooler regions, setting up a hoop house or cloche will improve growth rates as winter approaches, while a greenhouse almost guarantees harvests in all but the very coldest weeks of the year.

Harvesting Oriental Leaves

Harvest plants like Chinese cabbage and bok choy whole by cutting through base of the plant. Loose, open plants such as mizuna should be harvested little and often, by taking a few leaves at a time from each plant. Pinch leaves off between finger and thumb or use a pair of scissors. After each cutting there should still be enough leaves left for the plant to recover.

Overwintered plants will grow strongly when warmth returns in spring, giving plentiful harvests before eventually bolting.

If you have any experience growing these loveable leaves, then comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

A year of Nation of Gardeners: 2014 gardening highlights in pictures

December 24th, 2014 | Garden Diaries, Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

2014 has been a busy year for our gardening folk in the Nation of Gardeners group and so we thought we would put together a gallery of highlights from the group’s gardening year.

The group autumn planted bare root perennials in late autumn 2013. The survival rates overwinter were what we were looking for when protected in pots under cover, versus open ground planting.  By spring we were seeing what had survived such as these Cheshire planted Papaver Place Pigalle and Astrantia Moulin Rouge.

Cheshire Papaver comparison Spring 2014

Cheshire Astrantia comparison Spring 2014

By summer there were blooms like fireworks bursting into life in gardens around the UK from these autumn planted bare root perennials.

Papaver Place Pigalle in bloom in Devon

The Papaver Place Pigalle pictured to the left here in our Devon gardener’s hillside plot, impressed with its beauty – albeit a beauty that lasted only days on these young plants. We shall see if year two gives these plants longer flowering power.

Astrantia Moulin Rouge and Sedum Xenox also performed well; flowering long and hard from late summer onwards, as did any of the Eryngiums that survived slug attacks.  Pictured below and to the right here is a wonderful shot of the Eryngium in flower, again in our Devon gardener’s plot.

Devon eryngium2014 was ‘the year of the slug’ with a mild winter over 2013/14 not keeping these pests in check sufficiently.  Many of our gardeners reported in defeated tones of visiting their gardens where an overnight devastation of plants had taken place, which is a heart breaking moment many gardeners will empathise with.

The only bare root perennial that failed to perform significantly was the Cimicifuga. If not consumed by slugs, the surviving plants threw up a couple of leaves this year, but we shall have to wait a while to see these notoriously slow growers bring anything more exciting to our beds!

Antirrhinum Purple Twist in CumbriaThere were other blooms in the gardens too.  A new variety of Antirrhinum called Purple Twist was sent out to the group for raising from seed.

The seedlings proved tricky to raise, and were nicknamed by our Cumbrian gardener as ‘moody teenagers’. Of the plants that pulled through the perils of legginess and damping off, the results were quite amazing.

The snapdragon plants that actually made it out of ‘seedling-hood’ and into to our Nation of Gardener’s plots flowered profusely throughout the summer.  They needed a thorough frost check to diminish them at the end of the year, and being a perennial will likely reward our gardeners for many years to come.  Our Cumbrian gardener’s picture here shows them standing proud and tall in her beds in the North of England.

Sweet peas, a cultivar of which Mr Fothergill’s is justly proud, played a big part in our group’s activities.   Autumn versus spring sowings were tested which gave us some glorious results in summer.  We asked our gardeners to sow a reliable variety Sweet Pea Old Spice alongside an exclusive chocolate flake variety Sir Henry Cecil.

Hertfordshire and Suffolk sweet peas

Above are sweet peas just emerging in Hertfordshire and then just planted in Suffolk.  Below, are sweet pea blooms for our gardeners in Worcestershire, South Wales and Renfrewshire.  The best of both worlds, the scentless Sir Henry Cecil impressed our gardeners with the upright habit of these large blooms, and the scent of the Old Spice added that much sought after quality in bowls of sweet peas around the house.

Sir Henry Cecil didn’t only impress our gardeners either.  The blooms grown in the Peak District, Devon and Hertfordshire were all entered into sweet pea shows and won prizes, and so they are officially award-winning sweet peas by independent jury!

Worcestershire, Pontypridd, Renfrewshire sweet peas

 

There was an abundance of things to taste as well as grow this year too including, from left to right, salad leaves (Buckinghamshire), garlic (South Wales) and cucamelons (West Wales).

diana_salad_jonathan_garlic_laura_cucamelons

There were also peppers (Elgin), broad beans (Devon) and tomatoes (Bristol).

Elgin Peppers, Devon Broad Beans, Bristol tomatoes

 

There were blackcurrants (Renfrewshire), blackberries (Worcestershire) and black tomatoes! (Bristol)

Blackcurrants renfrewshire, Blackberries Worcestershire, Black Tomatoes Bristol

We mustn’t forget the strawberries!  This was another autumn planting versus spring planting trial.  Alongside this we also tested out our ‘Berry Quick’ product line of commercially ‘frozen’ strawberry plants that guaranteed fruit within 30 days of planting.  The Berry Quick did indeed produce fruits within 30 days for all of our gardeners, but the taste of the spring and autumn planted strawberries were preferred universally by our group proving that a longer and slower growing season is worth the wait.

Pictured here are the strawberry crops of our gardeners in Surrey, Renfrewshire and Ceredigion.

Surrey, Renfrewshire, Ceredigion strawberries

We trialled the late sowing of annuals and perennials in late summer.

Cheshire Godetia

In particular the Godetias impressed (pictured here in our Cheshire gardener’s plot).   These plants gave vigorous and long lasting blooms for many gardeners, and perhaps most impressive for many was the fact that it is a variety not grown so often.

Though a summer annual, these plants also proved to be reasonably cold tolerant with our Pontypridd gardener reporting that his Godetia still had flowers even after the first hard frosts in his area.

Late sown annuals in late September

Otherwise the annuals grown were workhorse varieties such as Calendula, Marigolds, Cornflowers and Alyssum, all of which produced beautiful mixed beds of flowers for our gardeners.  Pictured here is our Surrey gardener’s annuals bed pictured in late September in a prime condition.

Of the late sown perennials we shall have to wait until 2015 as these young seedlings have all been tucked up safely in greenhouses and coldframes around the UK to sit out the winter.  We are promised Echinacea, Poppies, Aubretias, Hollyhocks, Aquilegia and Lavender so watch this space.

Later in the year we asked our gardeners to plant mini plug pansies for overwintering.

Pansies in Bristol

The variety dispatched to our gardeners is a trailing pansy called Cool Wave, a breeding break-through which is the first true trailing pansy to be grown from seed.  Our gardener in Bristol was soon enamoured with her small pansy plants posting in these wonderful portraits of their individual personalities!

We asked our gardeners to plant out winter peas – Pea Meteor – and to leave them to the elements.  In the more northerly parts of the UK, the elements took these plants pretty quickly.  We shall see how our south-based gardeners get on with these plants early in 2015 and if they get a welcome early crop of peas from them as a result of the plants enduring a UK winter.

Herrtfordshire Christmas potatoes in November

Christmas potatoes were also planted in early autumn.  However, Christmas came early for many of our gardeners!

The warm and late summer weather, where we had lots of warm days right through September and into early October pushed these plants on faster than anticipated.  The plants grew and then died back prematurely forcing the tubers to be lifted in October and November for many.  Our Pontypridd gardener is determined to lift on Christmas Day though, so we shall see what hides under the compost once he has had chance to turn them out.

Pictured here is our Hertfordshire gardener’s potato crop.  Not huge, but good to get a new potato taste late in early winter.

As we slip into the depths of winter, our gardeners are tending overwintered salad crops and some very special woodland strawberries. Bob Flowerdew supplied Mr Fothergill’s with a yet-to-be-named variety and so our gardeners are going to be testing them out alongside the nurserymen at Mr Fothergill’s in Kentford.  We don’t know much about these plants yet and so our group of gardeners will help us determine the growing and cropping habits of these plants.

It has been a busy year for our group of gardeners and one that has been fruitful, both figuratively speaking and literally!  Follow us into 2015 for more gardening adventures with our group as we see what year two brings for many of the plants.