ENJOY SALADS ALL YEAR ROUND
Apprentice gardeners in the sixties learn every gardening skill from fruit, flowers and vegetables to sports, woodlands and landscaping. A five year training session gave you a good grasp with most of the practical work done at Duntrune Terrace gardens. The first crops available each year would be radish and lettuce which had been started early in the glasshouse. These were followed on with spring onions. The range was only extended with different varieties of radish and lettuce, some of which could be grown over the winter in beds in the glasshouse. Today gardening has moved on as holiday travel to exotic locations gave us more knowledge of other types of salad and experiments began to see which of these could be grown here.
We now have a far wider range to be grown outdoors and also in our glasshouses which can virtually give us fresh salads all year round.
I start sowing lettuce, radish, spring onion and beetroot in late March at home in a warm room, introducing them to a windowsill once they have germinated. They will go into my unheated greenhouse after a couple of weeks when they are strong enough. Lettuce gets sown in a shallow seed tray then transplanted into cellular trays to grow on. The rest all go direct into cellular trays.
I prepare some ground previously manured and dug in winter. Add some fertiliser, rake it in then erect low polythene tunnels at least a week before planting to allow the soil to warm up.
As soon as the transplants are big enough they can be planted out under the tunnel allowing just enough space to grow, but remembering you will be harvesting young plants as soon as they are ready for the plate. Keep checking for slugs and water as required.
Summer and autumn
This is the normal season when salads are sown direct into the soil in rows. Only grow enough to use at each harvesting period, and sow more rows in four week successions. The last sowings can last well into winter if it is mild. I have some overwintered lettuce and spring onions that are growing just nicely now having come through the winter just fine.
However we are no longer confined to lettuce, radish and spring onions. There is now a whole lot of other weird and wonderful salads to try out and firstly see if they will grow, and then are they tasty.
Last year I tried Pak Choi, and Sorrel outdoors but they never germinated. However Mizuna, Komatsuna and Tatsoi all grew just fine and lasted well into winter. The salad leaves were very welcome, but not strongly flavoured. Mustard mix was fine with a bit more bite. Corn salad and Polycress did not really impress me, but they are all worth trying again as last year was so cold and wet it never really gave them a fair trial.
A crop of early carrots under fleece was harvested in summer and the ground lightly forked over then sown down to a winter blend of salad leaves containing Rocket, Kale, Mustard and Mizuna. These kept fresh, plentiful and usable from autumn till January.
Tomato plants last year were so poor that many were removed in August, The grow bags were opened up and sown with Mizuna, Mustard and Rocket. Growth was quite good and gave us small but very worthwhile quantities of salad leaves all winter. I spread some good fertile topsoil into the growbags and mixed it in before sowing.
I had some Oriental salad seed left so an autumn sowing was made in cellular tray giving me some Tatsoi, Mizuna and Komatsuna plants to overwinter for early spring planting.
I also sowed lettuce Arctic King in the autumn, got a good germination so pricked out forty seedlings into trays to overwinter in my greenhouse. They established very well, but slowly died out over winter, so I only have six left. Arctic King may be fine in the arctic, but the Dundee mild winter soon sorted it out, or maybe it just did not like peat free compost.
Plant of the week
Anemone blanda will form dense drifts of blue flowers only a few inches tall in late March.
A few corms planted in a well drained humous rich soil in full sun or partial shade in the rock garden or woodland fringe will naturalise from spreading of its seeds to form a carpet. The leaves emerge just after flowering but die down in summer as soon as some dry weather prevails. Take care when weeding as the corms are small and not easily seen. Cyclamen hederifolium is a good companion plant as it usually grows and flowers when the Anemone is dormant.