Growing winter salad
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.
- Salad onions
- Kale *
- Winter lettuce (Arctic King is amazing) *
- Pak Choi
- Winter spinach
- Winter radish
- Mustards* - lots of different types as these work really well with winter salads
- 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.
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