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Journal

Growing winter salad

basket of chard

There is a wonderful book by the American grower Elliot Coleman about growing salad right through winter. In it he talks in great detail about how to protect crops and carry them right through the months of the year that there has traditionally been no fresh produce in colder parts of the globe.

The idea is to create a great walk-in growing fridge that has mature plants in it - plants that will not begin actively growing again until the Spring, but which can be harvested meantime. It is a plan that requires a level of precision - to get the plants to exactly the right point before the cold and dark comes and stops them in their tracks - and a knowledge of your local light levels.

In the middle of Scotland I am sowing and planting all my winter salads and vegetables this week and next - I gather that in more southern parts of the country you can do this through August, Coleman - whose latitude is equivalent to France plants into September.

I grow mainly in my polytunnel - which is a great luxury I know - but there will be hardier crops out in the ground, some shrouded by fleece, and others in pots tucked up near the house. I use fleece and net curtains overnight even in the tunnel - it is important to keep them off the crops with canes or hoops or they will burn leaves where they touch them on a frosty night.

This is what I shall be growing. The asterisks show things outside, our temperatures go down to -10 for significant periods.

  • Turnips
  • Salad onions
  • Kale *
  • Chard
  • Winter lettuce (Arctic King is amazing) *
  • Pak Choi
  • Rocket
  • Winter spinach
  • Winter radish
  • Claytonia
  • Mustards* - lots of different types as these work really well with winter salads
  • Mizuna*
  • Mibuna*
  • Broad beans *
  • Garlic* (planted August/September as light levels irrelevant)

I also have leeks, purple sprouting broccoli already in the ground which will stand outside all winter. Many of the cabbage family salad leaves (like mibuna and mustards) will manage down to -4 with a little protection so tend to be fine with us outside until December, but will not cope with a very cold January/February - That is long enough for it to be worth me growing some outside with a bit of protection.

All of these will grow in large pots - I really recommend the polystyrene boxes you can get from fishmongers and greengrocers, just punch holes in the bottom for drainage - if make a frame from metal coat hangers, you can simply peg fleece or other fabric over them to protect from frost. If you are only doing this overnight it doesn't matter if it lets light though - just remember to take it off again in the early morning.

Other emergency cold snap measures are a well wrapped small hot water bottle tucked under your protection - the more wrapping, the slower it will release its heat.

Tags: gardening do

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I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
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I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
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This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
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It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
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When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
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The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
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The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
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My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
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Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
Abundance.⁠⠀
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And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
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My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
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So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
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I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
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I am prone to obsessions.  My brain hones in on topics and rabbit holes away, a constant background chatter to my life.⁠⠀
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It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
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My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
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Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
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Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
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But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
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This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
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This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
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White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
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The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
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Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
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We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
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Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
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Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
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It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
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Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
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Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
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So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
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An attempt to keep momentum.
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At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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