Winter Salads: hardy souls

My experiment at growing winter salads undercover seems to be going to plan. I picked enough salad leaves on Christmas Day from 2 of the planted mushroom boxes to feed 4 people. I haven’t harvested anything from either of these salad boxes since 21st November (see previous post for more details). Below are my before & after pictures:

Salad Box 1-25th Dec, before cropping

Salad Box 1-25th Dec, before cropping

Salad Box1 after cropping 25th Dec

Salad Box1 after cropping 25th Dec

SaladBox2, 25th Dec before cropping

SaladBox2, 25th Dec before cropping

SaladBox2- after cropping

SaladBox2- after cropping

Since picking leaves I’ve watered the boxes (with lukewarm water+few drops seaweed extract) as they were quite dry; I also noticed that the plants had produced lots of fine roots near the surface, possibly to compensate for lack of depth in their tray, so I added a top-dressing of fresh compost and raised the level about 1″/3cm, as well as firming compost around each plant. I’ve also regularly cleared weed seedlings & any yellowing or dead leaves. I’ll leave these trays now, probably for about 1 month, before picking again.

What this has demonstrated so far is how much the decrease in light levels & drop in temperature affects plant growth through the cold winter months; certainly I’m learning a great deal about the relationship between sowing & planting times on growth & harvests during winter. I’ve also discovered how tough oriental brassicas can be if they survive past seedling stage & slug attack. The plants I’ve been most impressed with have been the Oriental cabbages: Pe Tsai & Bekana salad cabbage as well as Yukina savoy; the larger, more sturdy lettuce seedlings have done better than smaller specimens, demonstrating the importance of sturdy plants established with good root systems before cold & lower light levels significantly close down growth. I’ll watch the smaller lettuce plants  with interest to see if they manage to catch up as temperature & light levels rise in spring. Spinach hasn’t done very well at all (wrong variety, sown at the wrong time?) & the Black Tuscan Kale isn’t doing very much, although seedlings from the same batch are surviving very well on the allotment in the open without any protection. Similarly, the red & green mustard frills have produced very large plants under white builders’ netting on the allotment, but only moderate growth here, in comparison. It’s also interesting to note the different rates of growth across the range of plants: I think pak choi, leaf chard & kale would probably benefit from growing together, as their relative slowness in relation to the oriental cabbages & lettuces means they’re in danger of being shaded as they grow. Or, is it just these varieties, & should I have sown seeds earlier so the seedlings were bigger when I planted them into their boxes? All interesting, all to be noted for next year.

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