Winter salads

If you want to be harvesting fresh green (and red and purple and even yellow) leaves this winter then you need to get your skates on and do it now.

Salads is a misnomer really, when I think of ordinary salad I think of limp lettuce, but when I make a salad there’s rarely a lettuce leaf in sight, unless I’ve got something interesting and lettuce like growing in the greenhouse or the garden. Usually for me, a salad is a mix of wild plants, herbs, oriental leaves and flowers all garnered from the greenhouse and garden. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill a large bowl of fresh leaves, just picked from your plants, but you must be sure of what you are harvesting. The safest way is to sow, grow and harvest what you want from seed, but if you know your plants you can add wild plants to your ingredients for an interesting mix. Things like garlic mustard, wild garlic, dandelion and even ground elder can fill out a salad bowl with little effort and add very different flavours.

The greenhouse, of course, offers far more scope for winter harvests, but unless you winter heat it, keep it frost free or heat an area, your cropping potential depends entirely on the ambient temperature. Many winter lettuce, salad crops and herbs are entirely hardy but will stop growing if the compost is frozen and the conditions are harsh. It won’t kill them off, but it slows production. Chances are that you won’t want a daily salad when winter arrives, but a source of fresh, vitamin rich leaves that will add rich flavour to your winter fare will be very welcome.

Sow things with a bit of flavour so that a little goes a long way and things that you like to eat. Spicy oriental greens like red mustards and mustard spinach combine well with the intensely flavoured herbs such as coriander, rocket and fennel. But the softer flavoured spinach beet and ruby chard will not only provide essential leafy bulk to the harvest but will go on to become a vital ingredient in spring. The overwintered plants grow with vigour and vitality as the weather improves and are a useful, tasty and colourful addition to salads, stir-fries and even as a vegetable in their own right.

Winter lettuce sown now will produce strong plants for harvest in November and December and may well flourish into the New Year too.

All of these can be sown outside or in the greenhouse or coldframe during August. Take a risk and sow some a fortnight later and just measure the progress of the plants. Keep the greenhouse and coldframe well ventilated and as consistent a temperature as possible. Avoid huge fluctuations in temperature by opening the greenhouse vents to allow hot air to escape, but close up well before dusk.

As always you’ll need to watch out for slugs, which have been a huge problem this season. Take great care when using slug control and always opt for the wildlife friendly options it makes no sense risking the very creatures that naturally eat your garden pests, plus some pesticides can be lethal to pets and even children.

 

Dealing with Long Grass

Sometimes just cutting the grass makes the rest of the garden look cared for, but when it’s the grass that’s got out of hand then it can be a mammoth exercise to get it back in check. Whenever the summer is wet and warm the garden grows copiously. That’s OK if you can tend to it and keep on top of the weeds, but if you

take time out for work, a holiday or if your garden is bigger than you really have time for, it can quite quickly get out of control.

Trouble is that many mowers just aren’t built to chop back excessive grass. It’s fine if you are the proud owner of a meaty petrol powered rotary (without a rear roller!), but if you’ve got the bargain basement leccy version, well forget it.

The most realistic solution is to beg, borrow or buy a dedicated grass trimmer, let’s face it if the lawn has got out of hand once; it’s going to happen again, so maybe you’d better invest in one. After trimming you need to collect up the loose long grass to prevent a thatch building up on the lawn. This allows air to circulate around the grass plants and prevents fungal diseases from taking hold. The once it’s all dried off a bit after a few days, put your mower on its highest cutting height and whizz over it all just the once. Allow it to recover for a few days and simply repeat, lowering the cutting height gradually until your lawn is back to a sensible length and looking healthy. It’s a great idea to feed it after such a rigorous work out. After all that growing it will have invested huge amounts of nutrients and energy into the grass blades that you have just cut off. A summer feed is OK in August but too late after that. By September you shouldn’t be encouraging fresh sappy growth so opt for an autumn feed that boosts the grass roots and feeds the plants at a low but steady rate in preparation for the winter.

If your lawn is prone to waterlogging and or moss then autumn is a good time to aerate it in an attempt to improve the drainage. You can use a garden fork and spike the lawn to a depth of 2-3 inches all over, but this is hard work. Instead use a hollow tine aerator that will remove round plugs of soil from the turf. If you can brush lawn dressing into these holes then this will aid drainage in heavy rain and improve airflow to the grass roots.