Showing posts with label Salad Days. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salad Days. Show all posts

Friday, 25 July 2014

Salad Days: The Food Programme

Screen grab taken from the Food Programme page on the BBC website

Whilst I was away, Radio 4's Food Programme broadcast a very interesting programme on Salad Leaves. The appropriately named Dan Saladino revealed that:

  • The UK's demand for salad leaves is worth £600 million annually and demand is rising steadily for leaf production throughout the year
  • Many of the salad leaves we buy are imported from Spain, particularly during the winter months
  • Chlorine is still used extensively by some firms as part of the bagged salad process as spring water supplies aren't sufficient for what's needed
  • A new indoor growing facility in Essex is the size of 10 football pitches. This is set to grow to 20 football pitches to meet increasing UK demand and to compete against imported leaves
  • Soil cleansing is practised at the Essex facility to reduce pests and diseases (but also eliminates the beneficials) and fertilisers are added to the soil before each crop cycle
  • Rose bay willow herb is edible and is being considered for inclusion in salads - a great way to b(eat) your weeds ;)
  • There's a major salad producer right here in Wiltshire (as well as me!)

It's well worth a listen (NB link is to a MP3 download) - the programme should be available for at least another year.

The programme's website page is packed with interesting information, including some new varieties to try and tasty recipes. There's also a link to Dave Bez's blog Salad Pride - Dave has produced a different salad for his lunch every day for four years. His blog is worth a good, long look, especially if you're stuck for ideas for your next salad.

The programme confirms why I started The 52 Week Salad Challenge over two and a half years ago - it's far better (and cheaper) to grow our own! 

If you're looking to start, you don't need a lot of space - a couple of pots or a windowbox will do. It's a bit hot to start growing lettuces right now (germination is suppressed when daytime soil temperatures go above 75 degrees Fahrenheit*), but you can start by sowing some mizuna, various mustards, rocket, pak choi and kale instead.

* = however, if you have a cooler, shadier spot then it should be OK to go right ahead :)

Friday, 27 June 2014

Salad Days: Intercropping, Limp Lettuce and Nightshade Tomatoes

My Nepalese allotment neighbour's putting me to shame. Not only is she growing a huge amount of blemish free lettuce, she is cleverly intercropping her onions amongst them. I wonder if the smell of the onions is helping to keep the slugs and snails at bay? Much food for thought here going forward...

We also swapped stories of what we use lettuce for in addition to salad. She uses it as a stir fried vegetable, just for a few seconds so the leaves are wilted a bit like we do with spinach sometimes. I countered with using it for soup, especially with older leaves or at the end of summer.

I've been cropping my lettuce leaves grown outside my back door since we came home and made a great discovery after some hasty harvesting earlier in the week. I put my leaves straight into a bag then popped them in the salad crisper in the fridge, only to find some rather limp and forlorn looking lettuce the next day.

The leaves needed a wash if I was to use them, so I decided to give them a nice long soak in some cool water and hey presto! no more limp lettuce. I suspect I wouldn't have had the same result with supermarket bagged salad. Another plus point for growing your own salad leaves :)

I'm doing a number of tomato trials this year and so far my black tomatoes are proving to be the most exciting. This is Indigo Rose, courtesy of Suttons. I've had fruit on my plants since the beginning of May which is the earliest I've ever seen tomatoes fruiting in my garden.

It can't be long until the all important taste test and I can't wait to try them, despite them resembling black nightshade's big brother. Though it would appear that reports of the latter's toxicity may be overstated.

I'll be back to tell you more about these, after the taste test :)

How's your salad faring this month?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Salad Days: Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Today's Salad Days is a little different. Have a look at the top middle of the book cover on the right, can you see why that might be? (click to enlarge if needed)

Yes, The 52 Week Salad Challenge has made it into print! It's one of 73 contributions to Niki Jabbour's latest book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, which is going down a storm.

2 years ago, Niki and I got chatting on Twitter after I mentioned her last book as part of the Challenge. It resulted in her asking if I'd like to contribute a 'plan' to her next book, based on the 52 Week Salad Challenge.

I said yes, but secretly I felt rather daunted. To me, 'plan' meant 'design' and I was only a couple of months into the Challenge at the time. Niki was very persistent though and assured me only a rough drawing would be needed and the book's artist would do the rest.

Still I procrastinated, but by September 2012 I finally felt able to put something together. However, Niki needed it immediately and I was about to go on holiday...

... out came the squared paper and I put together 4 plans, 1 for each season. Each one is based on the area of the 2 cold frames I'm using to grow salads, the idea being that only a small area is needed to grow a year long salad supply as long as some astute juggling with seed trays plus windowsill growing during the cold months are also adopted.

Underneath each plan is a a key to the crops grown with growing notes and named varieties to try. There are also some suggestions for a few extras (aka fixin's) which can be used to supplement the salad greens, such as a pot of nasturtiums or a hanging basket of Tumbler tomatoes.

Niki typed up my written notes I'd scanned and emailed to her, then sent them back with a list of questions. It was clear my hastily scrawled handwriting left something to be desired! She also translated my English into 'American' e.g. rocket became arugula and we spent some time discussing our favourite varieties and homing in on those available on both sides of the pond.

And two years later here's the final transformation - after answering further questions from the editor and a couple of rounds of approving the artwork. I also had to write an author biography for the book's introduction. I'm honoured to be included alongside many of the great and the good of north American garden writing world. It's great to see Emma Cooper and Rachel Mathews batting for this side of the pond, as well as my dear friend Dee representing Oklahoma :)

Niki's done a grand job of pulling the book together and I've loved reading the other contributors' plans. I see them not as an absolute recipe to be followed slavishly, but as a compendium of ideas and starting points which can be adapted and joined together to meet the reader's own requirements. For example, Emma's comfrey tower would sit very well alongside my plan.

Thanks Niki for your persistence and giving me the opportunity to contribute to your book. Am I chuffed to bits with the result? You betcha :)

Friday, 25 April 2014

Salad Days: New Perennials, Winter Survivors and Early Flowers

This is my 'holding area' in the side garden of plants awaiting the right space up at the plot
New perennials

This year, I've decided to have more perennial salads in the garden/allotment. This is partly inspired by Martin Crawford's book which I reviewed last year and partly though donations I've had from Naomi.

I went to stay with her in early February and she kindly let me loose in her polytunnel to come away with some welsh onions (left), mitsuba aka Japanese parsley (the reddish leaves at the top) and Cardamine raphanifolia (the cressy looking plant on the right, which Naomi describes as 'totally bombproof'). She tells me the latter two came from Edulis if you're interested. I see they both like moist, shady areas, so I'll be locating them next to my wasabi* up at the allotment.

These were plonked in the pictured 'holding bed' at the side of our house awaiting space in one of the raised beds up at the allotment. Their transfer is imminent and whilst I've left them to bulk up ready for their new home over the past 3 months, there's been enough growth in our mild winter for us to nibble on a few leaves and deem them worthy for our salads.

I tried to grow some Agastache from seed last year and failed spectacularly, so I have some plugs on order. These perennials are earmarked for one of the terrace beds in the garden. They're a great plant for bees and their leaves are edible, so they'll be great for our salads too.

* = which has settled very nicely into its new home under the apple trees.

Winter survivors and early flowers

Despite the mild winter I've only just taken off the fleece and cloches from the allotment salads. It's been interesting to see what's fared well over the winter on the lettuce front. The more upstanding cos types like 'Lobjoits' and 'Intred' are very perky, but the looser leaves such as 'Marveille de Quatre Saison' and oak leafed varieties seem to have melted away.

This might be due to the winter wet and resultant lack of airing and it'll be interesting to see if the results are the same next winter. However, we still have plenty of leaves to tide us over until my recent sowings grow large enough for picking.

Another result of the mild winter is the much earlier than usual prevalance of flowers on the mustard, rocket and land cress plants as they've decided it's time to bolt. We're munching on these flowers in our salads as fast as we can, but the pictured rocket is far too prolific for us to stop its bid to make lots of seed. I see my Nepalese allotment neighbour has cut off all the flowering stems in her large bed of mustard, I think I may have to do the same.

How's your salad faring this month?

Friday, 28 March 2014

Salad Days: Easy Art Print Review

A little while ago I was offered a print from the Easy Art collection for review purposes. With the 52 Week Salad Challenge still making a regular contribution to this blog, it was almost inevitable my selection would be the pictured Salad Greens by Alan Baker from the Guardian Wallchart collection.

I now have pictures of over 30 individual leaves to remind me we can eat salad every week of year whenever I sit down to eat the real thing.

Here's the finished product on our kitchen wall. As well as the print, I had a great time playing with the frame and mount options until I found a combination to my liking to fit with our decor.

I selected an ash frame partly in homage to the ash tree I'm Tree Following this year. The mount is a moss green which fits well with the poster and is greener than the photo suggests. As our kitchen is pretty bright - even in winter - I selected the non-reflective glass option.

If salads aren't your thing, there are hundreds of botanical prints available to select from, many of them from the RHS's collection in the Lindley Library. Choice isn't limited to the garden world either, so I think there's plenty to suit every kind of taste and interest, from fine art through photography to vintage posters. Prints usually come in a variety of sizes and you can opt to buy just the print, or to add a frame etc to your liking like I did.

I think they'd make a great house warming present.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Salad Days: Famine and Feast

Here we have two identical trays with identical amounts of compost, the same number of pea seeds in each and all lovingly watered with the same amount of liquid over the past few weeks.

I have no idea why there is such a dramatic difference between the two trays - the 'famine and feast' of this month's Salad Days post.

So whilst I lament on the reduced number of tasty pea shoots for my salad, I'm also mulling over the dangers of drawing too many conclusions from home-grown gardening experiments and trials. Repeatability is key, but how many of us do that in our gardening lives when something doesn't 'work' first time?

The replacement tray is coming along nicely.

How's your salad faring this month?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Salad Days: Roots n Shoots

Winter's continued to be mild here at VP Gardens, so technically setting up my new seed sprouter (courtesy of Victoria) hasn't really been necessary as we have plenty of fresh salad leaves to hand already.

Force of habit from 2 years of salad challenging has kept me doing this; besides you never know when the weather might take a turn for the worst and turn the outdoor stuff to mush. I was also keen to try out a sprouter with dividers. It means I can easily sprout 4 different seeds at a time in the same space, so the flavours available are doubled :)

It's also meant I'm able to get up close and personal with the seeds' roots. I love how growing differently at this time of the year adds a new perspective to what we do. I usually line the trays with kitchen paper, so I'm glad I forgot this time.

The instructions which came with this sprouter advised rinsing the seeds with a 1% bleach solution first. I've only come across this when preparing tomato seed for saving, and I was a little surprised to see it given for sprouting seed, even though they'd be washed thoroughly with fresh water many times before eating. Has anyone else come across this advice? What did you do? I simply ignored it and ensured our seed was washed with fresh water twice a day as usual. NAH and I have survived!

Another discovery this month is an article about re-growing food from kitchen scraps that's right up my street. Here's one of my carrot tops on day 3. They won't provide heaps of salad, but it's a fresh way of finding something suitable for the bowl at this lean growing time of year.

Fancy joining in the 52 Week Salad Challenge this year? Here's the key post to get you started :)

Like last month, I'll put up a list of your salad posts for January, if you leave your URL to your post (not your blog) in the comments below.

How's your salad faring this month?

Your posts and my findings

Friday, 27 December 2013

Salad Days: Food for Thought

When I started the 52 Week Salad Challenge 2 years ago it was because I was horrified at the proportional cost of our weekly bagged salad fix, when compared with the price of the likes of top quality steak. In the video above (click here to view if the embedded version doesn't work) Jane Perrone explains this consumption has surprising  political (to me anyway) as well as economic implications. Some food for thought going into 2014...

Green salad from the cold frames
...December's mild weather means my under cover salad has continued to crop well. It's been interesting to note how the cos type lettuces ('Intred' in particular) are standing well in comparison to their looser leaved cousins. 'Salad bowl' has disappeared completely under its protective fleece and some of the 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' have rotted off at soil level.

A spot of sunshine last week meant I was able to give everything a good airing and clear away any mushy leaves, which will help to keep things going. I have leaves to last into January and then the cores will be left to recover for early spring pickings. I can also see that the plants picked earlier in the autumn are healthier. Perhaps their being closer to the soil, plus the greater airflow around the plants has left them better prepared to meet winter's chills.

Refreshing the allotment leaves
A few nights of frost have started a real change to the radicchio up at the allotment - from a red freckled green to its characteristic deep crimson winter heart. I must remember to take my camera next time, so I can show you. One surprise is I'm still picking the unprotected buckler leaf sorrel and 'Green in snow' mustard. Their touch of citrus and heat respectively are helping to enliven our taste buds at tea time.

How's your salad faring this winter? There's no Mr Linky this month, unless there's plenty of salad to report. If you leave details of your salad related post in the Comments, I'll add a full link to this post.

Elsewhere on the salad front...

Friday, 22 November 2013

Salad Days: Hunkered Down for Winter

It's been a long, slow autumn this year, which means I'm still picking plenty of salad leaves - enough for a couple of meals a week. Here's a 'warts and all' view of my allotment salad. It's also overrun with salsify which has self seeded itself into my raised beds. Time to get weeding!

This week's colder weather means re-growth at the plot and in my home based cold frames has slowed right down. As I have plenty snuggled under protection, I'll still be able to pick lots of salad for a few more weeks, but now is the time to start my indoor sowings of pea shoots in readiness for leaner times.

I've been really pleased with this new lettuce variety 'Intred', which is providing a colourful addition to the salad bowl. It's thriving under a cloche, producing plenty of tasty leaves beneath a protective layer of tougher outer ones. My lettuce 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' and chicory 'Treviso Rosso' seed tape leaves sown in August are also standing well beneath their fleece and cloche protection respectively.

Soon it'll be time to switch to sprouted seed and microgreen production and my 52 Week Salad Challenge cycle will start all over again.

How's your salad faring? What steps are you taking to keep your crops going this winter? Add your news in the comments, or add the URL of your salad related blog post in Mr Linky below. NB there are some great comments as well as the links :)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Salad Days: Lattughino verde

As my salad challenge is Mastering Lettuce this year, I was surprised to find a completely new form (to me anyway) at the Yeo Valley Organic Garden recently. This is 'Lattughino verde', which looks more like a giant wild rocket than a lettuce. Its flavour is mild, so it's one for adding bulk and visual appeal to a salad.

Most of the online information - unsurprisingly - is in Italian, but I have managed to find it in the Organic Gardening catalogue. They've put it in the loose leaf category and describe it as 'an Italian finger lettuce'. They have another of this type which looks tempting called 'Catalogna'. It's described as 'slow to bolt, hardy and quick regrowing' - sounds like an excellent candidate for the picking method.

I've added both varieties to my list of new leaves to try for next year along with the 'easy watercress' (aka Cardamine raphanifoliaEmma Cooper found at the Edulis nursery last weekend. She says it's a good alternative to the American land cress I usually grow. It's a shade loving perennial which starts back into leaf around now - I have just the spot in my garden calling out for this. Let's not forget the Siberian purslane Mark Diacono also mentioned in his talk recently.

It's reassuring to find there's still lots to learn and try after nearly two years of my 52 Week Salad Challenge. What salad plans are you making for next year?

If you've written a salad-related post this month, then add the URL of your post (not your blog) to Mr Linky below.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Salad Days: Salad Rescue In Progress

A selection of photos taken when my plants arrived :)
Sometimes I'm a totally rubbish gardener ;)

I sorted out the holiday watering for all of my plants except the seeds I'd sown in modules for winter salads. All that warm weather whilst we were away sent them to their doom.

I turned to my Cheat's Salad Guide, where Anna had recommended Delfland nurseries, a company which she'd found to be very good for vegetable plant supplies. Unlike most plant suppliers you can mix and match varieties to suit your needs as well as opting for their designated selection.

Looking at their website last Friday, I couldn't find which salad leaves were on offer for September, and so left a customer enquiry. They cleverly looked a bit further into my email address, spotted Veg Plotting and kindly offered some samples for me to try.*

A lovely well-packed box of 60 healthy organic plants arrived on Wednesday - 10 plants each of lamb's lettuce, land cress, 2 x lettuces (Winter Density and Arctic King), rocket and winter purslane. They're strong plug plants and I particularly liked that the padding used to protect the plants in the box is compostable.

Here's some of them planted out for the winter in the coldframe at the side of the house. I've lined the glass with recycled polystyrene sheets for extra warmth. The plants are closer together than the usual recommended spacing, but I've found this doesn't matter when using Charles Dowding's picking technique..

I hope to get a light picking from these before the light fades and the temperatures really drop next month. Then they'll snuggle down for winter before we start eating from these plants in earnest next spring.

I didn't quite have enough room for everything in my coldframes, so I planted the lamb's lettuce outside. It proved it can survive an exceptionally cold winter earlier this year, so I'm sure these plants won't mind. I also have a rather nice fleece 'cloche' which fits over this planter on standby just in case.

* = Anna really deserves these for her recommendation, not me.

In other salady news...

The seed tape salads I sowed up at the allotment last month are doing well. The other seeds have confirmed what I suspected at the time; uneven sowing = dreadfully uneven rows ;)

Have you heard about the Tomtato (TM) launched this week? It's a tomato plant grafted onto a potato plant (an old technique I mentioned in passing in my 2009 post about grafted tomatoes), which is being sold at £14.99 (!) a pop. If the potato is matched properly to the tomatoes' cropping time, it must be a maincrop. I hope they've chosen blight resistant varieties at that price...

Update: Interesting post by the Sarvari Trust on their prior experience with grafting tomatoes and potatoes. I also believe it was a technique tried during WWII in an attempt to increase wartime crop production. I've yet to find actual evidence to support my vague memory of reading that somewhere...

How's your salad faring this month? As usual Mr Linky is standing by to receive the URLs of your salad related posts :)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Salad Days: Getting It Taped

I've cleared the alliums from the raised beds and whilst I'm waiting for them to dry - so I can finally assess the results of my biochar experiment - I've started off some new leaves for our autumn salads.

To keep the spirit of experimentation going, I'm using some of the seed tapes which Simple Sowing have kindly given me to try. I've tried some seed tapes before and been quite critical of the limited range on offer, so it's great to have a much wider range to play with.

I used my trusty onion hoe* to mark out the rows and then watered them as I usually do when sowing seed. This turned out to be a wise move as the damp soil prevented the tape from blowing away when I laid it on top. Each tape is 1.67 metres long, so I had to trim it to size. I quickly learnt I need to keep my hands dry for this part of the operation, and for putting the tape back into its bag.

I've sown four types of lettuce ('Little Gem', 'Lollo Rosso', 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' and 'Salad Bowl'), plus some rocket and a chicory, 'Treviso Rosso'. I also sowed some conventional seed - land cress, 'Bull's Blood' beet, 'Green in Snow' mustard and a new lettuce 'Intred'. It'll be interesting to see how evenly I've managed to sow these compared to the seed tapes**. I have another raised bed to clear soon which I'll use to try some turnips***, kale and quick grow radish seed tapes.

Elsewhere this month, I've used some of the bolting lettuce to make lettuce and ginger soup (nicely warming when the weather turned cooler last week) and I've also learnt tomato leaves are edible. Apparently a few leaves added to any tomato based dish really help to enhance the flavour. That seems reasonable, though I'm not sure I'll add them to a tomato salad...
How's your salad faring this month? Mr Linky is waiting below to take your salad related post, or else you just leave a comment as usual. Any experiences of using tomato leaves in cooking are also welcome.

* = it's much more versatile than that; it's probably the garden tool I use the most. And all for a mere £1.50 from Dorset Steam Fair a few years ago :)

** = on past form they'll be rubbish ;)

*** = our site has a reputation for not being able to grow turnips and swede, it'll be interesting to see if the combination of a raised bed and seed tape cures the problem.

    The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

    Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence.


    Friday, 26 July 2013

    Salad Days: A Quick Look at Hydroponics

    Separated at Birth? Hydroponic-ish grown tomatoes (left) vs those grown in containers as usual
    We're taking a break from our usual Salad Days broadcast re salad leaves to have a look at how my tomato crop is faring and to see some preliminary results from trialling a self-watering container.

    NB These planters strictly speaking aren't hydroponics ones because they're using compost as the growing media: with hydroponics an inert material such as a mineral wool or clay pebbles are used. However, I believe the kit I'm using utilises many of the principles of hydroponics and can be used to explain what this growing method is about.

    As you can see the self-watering container on shown on the left (aka Quadgrow) consists of four planters which sit above a large tank of water. Inside, a strip of absorbent material is fed through a hole in the bottom of each planter and the material acts as a wick to transfer the water into the compost. Far less compost is needed than with the usual kind of containers; just enough to hold the plant in place and allow it to take up water and nutrients successfully. So far the above photos show what a difference that can make.

    The tomatoes are Gardeners Delight and Black Krim: planted out at the same time with 3 plants going into my usual containers and four into the Quadgrow. Some further points to note:

    • Fresh peat-free compost was used for all the pots
    • Both sets of plants are next to each other on the sunniest part of the patio (I've reversed their positions above)
    • I bought plants on special offer from my local garden centre as I had no room to grow my own from seed and I have a dismal track record in starting my own tomatoes anyway. I needed to start this trial with plants as similar as possible, so I thought it wise to use my Cheat's Guide ;)
    • All tomatoes were planted outside at the end of June after the last frosts, though at that time temperatures were still inclined to dip quite a bit at night
    • Water has been topped up in the Quadgrow every 10 days and the container tomatoes watered every other day
    • I haven't been using the feed supplied with the Quadgrow, nor have I fed the container plants (baaaaad VP!). Note to self: must start feeding them this weekend

    A look under the covers at the roots dangling in the water
    As you can see, the Quadgrow plants are faring much better. As I've not fed them yet, I believe this is down to a couple of factors:
    • The black plastic is absorbing the heat and keeping the plants at the kind of temperatures they like for much longer. This was probably particularly important at the beginning when temperatures were dipping into the cool side of things overnight
    • Having a constant supply of water at the root zone ensures the plants never go short of water

    Here's a quick look at me setting up the Quadgrow back in June, so you can see what's involved:

    Note that the water chamber underneath holds 30 litres of water and is fully covered

    NB The kit I'm testing is marketed for use in a greenhouse. However, it seems to be performing OK outside. I'm not sure how much difference a summer like last year would make to the results though! The water compartment is well covered, but rain would be able to get in via each of the planters and possibly make it overflow.

    A few other things I've learnt about self-watering containers and hydroponics
    • The Saladgrow I've been using for my windowsill lettuces is another example of a self-watering container. I'll also be trialling another type of self-watering pot I have for my chilli plant later
    • Hydroponics is a way of growing plants without using soil. Aquaponics is where fish are added into the system. Their waste is used to feed the plants growing above them. The aquaponics system I saw at the Edible Garden Show costs quite a bit more than the kit I'm testing here
    • There are two types of hydroponics - active and passive. The Quadgrow and Saladgrow are using the same principles as a passive hydroponic system where water and nutrients are transferred into the growing medium by capillary action. Active is where a pump is used to constantly wash water and nutrients across the root zone. A simple guide to hydroponics can be found here.
    • Active systems usually out perform their passive cousins because the former maximise the availability of oxygen to the plants. However, the use of a pump means there are extra running costs involved with this type of system
    • There's also aeroponics, where plant roots are suspended in a misting chamber rather than a growing medium. The misting system delivers a constant supply of oxygen, water and nutrients. This is claimed to deliver the highest yields, but it looks like it's relatively complex compared to hydroponics
    • So far I've only found examples of non-organic feeding with this kind of kit. I'm going to start trialling using some shop bought organic feeds to see if these can be used successfully
    • There's a lot more to learn and I have yet to visit Bill and Ben ;)

    Disclosure: I received various self-watering planters plus a simple active hydroponics system to trial courtesy of the manufacturer. I'm under no obligation to provide a favourable review and I've already given them some ideas to improve the instructions they supply with their kit.

    How's your salad faring this month? Add your salad blog post URL to Mr Linky below, or leave a Comment...

    Friday, 28 June 2013

    Salad Days: A Lettuce Line-Up

    Now cropping. From top right to bottom left we have: Amaze, Antarctica, Black Seeded Simpson, Dazzle, Freckles, Marveille de Quatre Saisons and Relic. The large picture is Dazzle again.

    So after my marathon sow-a-thon earlier in the year, we now have quite a variety of lettuce to choose from for our dinner. Having lined up a selection of leaves for their individual mug shots, I've started to really appreciate their differences in form, colour and size.

    And soon I shall need a selection of glutbuster lettuce recipes ;)

    How's your salad coming along? Leave a comment below or the full URL of your Salad Days blog post via Mr Linky. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

    Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence

    Friday, 22 March 2013

    Salad Days: Mastering Lettuce

    I've decided one of my salad challenges for this year is to grow as many lettuce varieties as I can, ready for the publication of my planned Factsheet* later on.

    The idea is to grow as many of the Tried and Trusted lettuce varieties last year's Salad Challengers helped compile, then provide a visual guide and as many lettuce facts as I can muster. So far I've found around half of those listed**. Then naturally whilst I was out searching - because such is the way with seeds - a number of other varieties found their way home too ;)

    A couple of weeks ago I sowed 22 varieties***. Just the simple act of sowing them has me intrigued. Why are some lettuce seeds black and others white****? They split into about half white to half black in my sample and as far as I can tell it's nothing to do with whether they're a type of cos, iceberg, or whatever.

    I sowed them indoors and popped them into a propagator on the windowsill. The soil's too cold outside for sowing and it won't be warm enough to plant them out in the cold frame outside until late April or May. Most of them germinated in 4-6 days, well within the 7-10 days given on most seed packets. I have a couple of no shows - Crisp Mint and Tamburo. Crisp Mint was a bit of a dodgy prospect anyway because I opened the packet a couple of years ago. However, Tamburo was all shiny and new, so I'm currently conducting a germination test to see if I have a duff packet.

    As you can see, despite being on a sunny south facing windowsill in March, my lettuces are rather leggy. However, I'm not going to throw them away and start again because we had a top tip from Alys Fowler in #saladchat on this very thing last year: just bury the stem up to the leaves when pricking out and they should come out OK in the end. That won't solve my problem of where to put them all though!

    All this legginess means I've been pondering grow lights again. The pukka thing is hideously expensive, though I'm told eBay is the place to find a bargain if I go down this route. Alternatively, Antjon posted recently about a DIY solution he's rigged up for his geranium seedlings using a full-spectrum SAD lamp for around £10.

    It's got me wondering whether all SAD lamps are full-spectrum and if a daylight bulb (which I have already) is the same thing. We've also been chatting on Twitter and Arabella Sock and Alex Mitchell - who already have SAD lamps - are having a go to see what happens. As we've now reached the spring equinox, I'm saving my experimentation for later in the year. I must also remember to try John Harrison's tip re using aluminium foil as a reflector to maximise available light.

    How's your salad coming along? Link to your salad post's URL in Mr Linky below. BTW I've answered question 5 from last month's Salad Days: pre-soaking makes no difference to pea seed emergence rates. It does allow me to assess seed viability though, so I'll continue with this practise.

    * = in the meantime, this article from the University of Illinois has lots of information.

    ** = they are: Black Seeded Simpson, Dazzle, Freckles, Iceberg, Little Gem, Lobjoits Cos, Lollo Rosso, Marveille de Quatre Saisons, Red Salad Bowl, Relic, Salad Bowl, and Tan Tan

    *** = Note to self: must sow more thinly next time - just 1 or 2 seeds per module will do

    **** = it seems it's a genetic factor, just like bean colour. This paper also says there are a few yellow seeded varieties too.

    Friday, 22 February 2013

    Salad Days: There Are More Questions...

    With most experiments I've ever conducted (either in a professional capacity or my own amateurish potterings), the results often garner more questions than answers*. You may recall I concluded in last month's Salad Days there may be a slight advantage if winter indoor pea shoot growing is started off in a propagator.

    However this answer inspired the following additional questions:
    1. Were the results repeatable, or a one-off?
    2. Would later growth or potential cropping times be affected?
    3. Would using a heated propagator make a bigger difference?
    4. Is there a difference in windowsill growing upstairs vs downstairs? (I was speculating the difference in height might have helped January's emergence/growth)
    5. What difference (if any) did soaking the peas first make to germination times? 
    6. What difference does windowsill aspect make? (I'm currently using south facing windowsills; I found last year I had to switch to westerly when the light and heat in March seemed too strong for my shoots)
    So this month I've been trying to find answers to questions 2-4 (entirely) and number 1 (in part) and I've put questions 5 and 6 away for later. I've been  measuring the growth of the original peas and also started 3 new identical pea trays (same types of tray, growing media and the same seed variety and numbers used): 2 for upstairs (1 in a heated propagator, the other in the unheated propagator used last month) and 1 for downstairs (in an unheated propagator placed in the equivalent position on the windowsill). The above picture shows the upstairs peas happily growing away post emergence and after they'd reached the height of their respective propagator lids earlier this week.

    Results of the growth observations (Question 2)

    Although both trays had their lids removed from the first measurement onwards, the increased growth observed with the peas started in the tray with the propagator lid on continued for the rest of the growing period. Whether the increased yield at the time of picking is significant needs further investigation and is probably minimal for my scale of growing. NB some of these shoots were used to make the yummy Sprouted Lentil and Pea Shoot Salad :)

    Results of the heated vs unheated propagator and upstairs vs downstairs emergence rates (Questions 3 and 4, plus a little bit of 1)

    The peas started in the upstairs non-heated propagator emerged the earliest and have the highest germination rate. There is very little difference to choose between the emergence rates for peas placed in the kitchen (downstairs) non-heated propagator and the upstairs heated propagator. I'm now measuring growth rates and on average so far they're at 85mm (kitchen) and 105mm (upstairs, both propagators). I'll continue with these measurements over the next few weeks.

    The pea emergence start day and overall curve for the non-heated propagator is similar to that seen last month, so it looks like the results are repeatable for propagator use at least.

    Overall verdict

    It's been an interesting few weeks conducting these experiments. It looks like I can save some of my electricity bill by not using heat for my indoor growing**. I like that I managed to pick my pea shoots a week earlier than last year, though whether I've significantly increased the actual crop obtained each time is questionable (though on a commercial scale there should be an advantage, they will be using giant propagators i.e. greenhouses and polytunnels ** after all...).

    However for both the upstairs vs downstairs comparison and cropping times, there are too many variables not eliminated from these experiments. This year's earlier pickings could be due to e.g. better light levels this year; the poorer performance downstairs seen so far might not be due to lower light levels as I first pondered, but to lower temperatures (heat does rise after all), or both.

    What is certain though at the end of this post, is I still have more questions than answers!

    * = A bonus point to everyone who remembers this was a song by Johnny Nash ;)
    ** = so I've started off my chillis instead
    *** = I don't have either of these, hence my windowsill growing and propagator ponderings

    One further question: how's your salad progressing this month? Tell all in the comments, or add the link to your blog post in Mr Linky below...

    Friday, 25 January 2013

    Salad Days 2013: Propagated Peas

    Peas ready for their propagator experiment. The left tray has the beets I told you about on Monday

    Last year I grew pea shoots for the first time. Lots of them. I found a small tray of thickly sown peas (either sourced from shop bought or the remains of a seed packet) were sufficient to form the 'base layer' with added sprouted seeds and microgreens to make a hearty salad for two.

    I see from last year's notes it can take up to 6 weeks for the pea shoots to crop during the darkest months. Later sown crops steadily grow just that little bit faster week by week, until growing them takes around four weeks in March. I was therefore keen to explore if growth time could be speeded up in some way.

    Experimental peas doing their stuff
    We spotted during last year's 52 Week Salad Challenge that a sharper cold spell could check indoor growth almost completely for a while. Temperatures can still fall quite sharply at night behind the curtains, even when the windows are double glazed.

    I had a bit of a 'light bulb' moment over the Christmas holidays and decided to press my new propagator into service to see if its protection would affect pea shoot growth in any way. I could use identical trays, with the same amount of growing media and peas added - 50 per tray and pre-soaked so they germinate more quickly. The trays could then sit side by side on my south facing bedroom windowsill with and without their lids. I left them sitting there quietly and had a look each morning with notebook in hand to see what was what.

    Here are the results:

    The lidded peas appeared a day earlier than the unlidded ones, on day 4 (7th January). Both trays of peas reached their maximum number of germinated seeds on the same day, day 10. Whilst the germination rate of the tray with a lid is higher, I don't think it's sufficiently high enough to be significant as both sets of peas had a relatively poor rate of germination (38% for the lidded peas and 30% for the unlidded). This is probably because the packet of seeds I was using up was right on its sow by date.

    However, the better performance of the lidded peas has continued post germination. The lid was left on until some of the peas reached lid height on day 13 (15th January). I measured the height of the peas in each tray and found an average of 88 mm for the unlidded grown seeds and 105 mm for the lidded ones. This marked difference in growth has continued. On Tuesday this week (day 20) the peas' average heights were 104mm (unlidded) and 143mm (lidded).

    Peas waving happily at the snow
    If this difference in growth continues, then it looks like I'll be harvesting the lidded peas 2-3 days earlier. This might not sound very much, but it means an extra crop of pea shoots could be squeezed in over an autumn/winter/early spring growing period. I'll update this post with actual harvest dates later. As you can see, (unlike the beets next door) the peas haven't suffered from the dreaded damping off disease this week.

    Therefore using a lidded propagator could be a useful way of bringing on windowsill grown pea shoots a little more quickly for no extra outlay, assuming you already have one. I'm saying could because I need to see if these results are repeatable rather than a one-off occurrence. It'll also be interesting to see if the observed difference in growth rates changes with increasing light.

    I'm beginning to wonder if peas are a suitable small crop for this time of the year because their very nature is to be leggy, unlike their beet cousins grown alongside. These were looking a tad stretched before they succumbed to damping off. I'm also pondering whether the height of my bedroom windowsill is key to a successful early crop at this time of year. A comparison with a tray grown on my kitchen windowsill downstairs could be interesting. So, the experiments will continue :)

    In a future post I'll be looking at another useful technique for producing earlier crops without needing a greenhouse or polytunnel to do so. It does however, require much more space than my windowsill...

    How's your salad coming along? Either let me know in the comments, or leave a link to your salad filled blog post in Mr Linky below:

    Friday, 28 December 2012

    Salad Days: A Winter's Airing

    As a first time winter salad grower, I'm learning not only is good protection needed, a good airing of everything from time to time is also a wise move. I'd spotted a touch of mould on the compost under the coldframes, so I decided to give everything a good airing last Friday to prevent further problems. It was a lovely dry, mild day amongst all the rainy ones we've had recently and it perked my salad up no end.

    As you can see, the potted lettuce 'Amaze' is coming along rather well under its cloche on the patio. A picking from a couple of these, plus some mustard, mizuna, fennel, chervil and pea shoots gave us a fine Christmas salad. Indoor sowings start in earnest in the New Year to supplement my under cover crops.

    NB I'm continuing with the 52 Week Salad Challenge into next year. Whilst I've managed to grow and blog something 'salady' for every week in 2012, it wasn't until March that I managed to grow a complete serving of salad for NAH and me. Therefore, I don't think my year of growing is complete yet and I have quite a few posts to spare. Regular and new Salad Challengers are welcome to join me for 2013 :)

    How's your salad coming along? Let me know in the comments or add your blog post link to Mr Linky below. Happy New Year everyone and here's to lots of salad growing in 2013!

    Friday, 23 November 2012

    Salad Days: Eat to the Beet

    I've been surprised how well my beetroot 'Bull's Blood' has kept on growing throughout November despite its lack of protection. We've sampled a few leaves already and as you can see there are a few more ready for picking.

    It's got me wondering whether a windowsill crop can be grown over the winter, just like I successfully managed with pea shoots at the start of the year. I did grow some beet for microgreens back then too, but baby leaves would be much better and more substantial. In theory the lack of light over the next few months should make that a 'no', but they're already growing better than expected this month...

    ...Alys Fowler did an online Q and A session for The Guardian last week , so I posed my question there (scroll down and you'll see I'm there as 'Veep'). Her response was:

    You could start them off indoors, harden off and plant out but don't expect to eat anything before March at the earliest. If you hanker after a pink/red micro green I'd try sowing purple oracle or amaranthus red army on your windowsill indoors, much more prolific.

    I'll try Alys' suggestions, but I'm going to try the beets just to see what happens. At the very least, I'll have a bumper crop of microgreens, so I've got nothing to lose.

    How's your salad growing coming along this month? Mr Linky is set up below for your posts.

    Friday, 26 October 2012

    Salad Days: Tucking Up For Winter

    Battening down the hatches ready for winter. I'm also going to line the sides of this coldframe with some polystyrene sheets I've found to keep things as warm as possible

    Today has significance at VP Gardens because it's the last day we have daylight for 10 hours until the middle of February next year. It means my salad plants won't be growing much over the next few months even if today's wintry temperature goes back to the unseasonal warmth we had earlier this week.

    Salad leaves need both a decent temperature and sufficient light to grow. The experience we've had during the 52 Week Salad Challenge so far suggests for many of us light is the more restricting factor in winter, even though quite a few salad crops usually do well in shade during the summer. I suspect in summer temperature has the major part to play as lettuce don't like things to be too hot and tend to bolt if they are. In that situation the shade is enough to keep them feeling comfortable.

    We've found that plants grown indoors in reasonable warmth still don't really get going during most of the winter months, hence our anecdotal thoughts that light levels have the edge in restricting growth at this time. My thanks to @GillyinAriege whose #saladchat conversation with @Bosleypatch this week reminded me of our shared experiences earlier this year.

    As you can see I've brought my plants under cover. This protection will keep things a degree or two warmer than outside and help keep off damaging frosts. Elsewhere there's various cloches covering lettuces and other oriental leaves as well as another coldframe protecting rocket, fennel, land cress, lamb's lettuce and chervil. I've also potted up some mint and flat leaved parsley for windowsill grown supplies and my sowings of pea shoots have recommenced.

    Unlike the past few months these supplies won't keep us in our 3-4 salads per week. I reckon I need a patch about four times the size I'm using to do that over the winter months.These coldframe/ cloche grown plants, plus various windowsill supplies and the odd bit of foraging should see us enjoying at least one weekly home grown salad for the next few months.

    Not everyone has 10 hours of daylight today, nor good temperatures for growing. To work out your local light and temperature averages for growing outdoors, have a look at my post on What's the Weather for Salad?

    NB don't forget the clocks go back here in the UK at 2am on Sunday morning.

    Mr Linky is now open for this month's contributions. Many thanks for your posts and those you've provided previously. NB when entering your link, enter the URL of your blog post, rather than your blog, so we can still find out what you've been up to salad-wise after you've published further posts.
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