A cunning plan: oriental brassicas & salads for winter

Every year I attempt to sow & grow oriental vegetables; every year I fail miserably. I either sow too early or too late & the seeds fail to germinate, or they grow, it rains & the slugs snaffle them, completely. I’d reached the conclusion that my efforts were wasted & I was destined never to succeed with them. Until this year.

You might consider that oriental brassicas had no chance in such a wet summer & equally damp & gloomy autumn. However, with failure of our potato crop (major blight damage) I was determined to show progress elsewhere with my growing skills. So, I sowed lots of turnips & loads of brassicas, alongside winter hardy lettuce varieties. However, this year I sowed seeds in modules, as well as open sowing in beds, which allowed me to replace plants that became slug & snail feasts. It also allowed me to experiment with container grown winter salads at home, in addition to covered beds in the allotment.

Seeds need to be sown between late August & end of September in order that they germinate & grow sufficiently, ready for transplanting  by mid-late October, while they still have time to establish a root system to sustain them over winter – it takes approximately 14 days for plants to settle & recover from transplanting. Small, but sturdy plants survive the winter cold better than larger specimens. They need to be covered with fleece or sturdy builders’ netting before the 1st frosts, usually by the end of October – but watch the weather forecasts. The dates are important because light levels diminish significantly after the Autumn Equinox (22nd September this year) as days shorten, temperatures fall & growth slows. You should also be careful about covering your beds with blue netting over winter, as it can cut light levels by up to 30%, not a very good idea during a season when light levels dip so low. I fortunately salvaged some white netting that I’ve washed & repaired (pink originally, but bleached through use).

Charles Dowding provides a useful chart for sowing & planting dates in his Winter Vegetable book. I have adapted my allotment diary charts & have include details of other salads, mainly lettuce varieties, Endive  & Kale, that are also part of my plan for winter salad harvests. Meanwhile, below, are examples of the plants I’ve raised & planted out in trays for the winter harvests at home.

I used old mushroom trays lined with thick layers of newspaper & cardboard, then filled them with a 50/50 mix of our own compost & leaf mould, pressing it firmly into the tray as I filled (but not too much).  Box1 was planted up on 23rd Oct, box2- beginning of November, box3 on 21st Nov, along with a couple of plant troughs . You can see how I’ve spaced the seedlings, below. The spacing is fine for now but I suspect, in spring, the boxes might become too crowded, given the plants survive the winter – all currently in an unheated kitchen extension where the door is propped open for our cats to get in & out, therefore generally cold!

Mushroom tray filled with compost before planting up

Salad box1 after planting up-23rd Oct
Above, from the top, L-R:
Leaf Erbette, Grandpa Admire’s lettuce, Bekana salad cabbage
Leaf Beet, Endive Gigante di Bergamo
Winter Marvel, Devil’s Tongue Romaine, Jack Ice
Red Pak choi, Yukina Savoy
Red Frills(Mizuna)x3, Bull’s Blood beetleaf x4, Spinach Gigante d’Inverno

Salad box1-3 weeks later, mid-November

I planted up the 2nd mushroom box a couple of weeks later, in early November.
Below, from the bottom, L-R:
Red Frills/Mizuna, Glacier Pak choi, Golden Frills
Cavolo di Nerox2
Rouge de Grenoblois, Jack Ice, Morton’s Secret
PeTsai Cabbagex2
Bekana salad cabbage, Yukina Savoy, Bekana salad cabbage.
Salad Box2, early November
Salad Box2, 17th November

I planted up a 3rd box (below) on 21st November, a bit late really, so I will watch how it grows with interest. My main concern will be whether the plants are able to recover quickly enough to put on some growth before light levels completely dip in December.
From Top, L-R:
Yukina Savoy x2
Continuity Lettuce x3
Bekana salad cabbage x2
Endive Gigante di Bergarmo x3
Green Frills, Red Frills/Mizuna
Winter Marvel, Rouge Grenobloise x2
I’ve picked enough leaves from the first 2 salad boxes to fill several pitta breads – that is, only a light harvest of the largest leaves. I’ll continue posting pictures over winter as a record of harvests & growth, but so far, I’ve grown more, & more varied, winter salads than ever before. What is required is some precise sowing dates, careful choice of seed varieties & nurturing of seedlings through to autumn transplanting. Planning & organisation rather than serendipity!

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