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Archive for the ‘Lettuces’ Category

January salad leavesAlthough I’ve started to buy in lettuces from my local greengrocer, this mild weather has meant that I still have a fair few herbs and autumn leaves in the garden which greatly improve the flavour (and texture) of otherwise rather dull salads.

This is what’s still growing in the garden (clockwise from top left):

I’m amazed that I have quite a number of flowers on some late self-seeded Borage plants, sitting atop what is left of my autumn ‘Solix’ lettuces (normally frosted and over by now). Next are some fiery mustard leaves (because I didn’t get around to sowing a late batch of the more gentle ‘Green in Snow’) resting on top of my Sugar Loaf Chicory. I really love this Chicory leaf. It’s the only truly winter leaf I’ve grown this year and it’s the softness of the leaf I appreciate, as well as the gentle bitter taste. It contrasts well with the crispness and sweetness of bought Cos lettuces and both combine well with a punchy vinaigrette. I’ve covered up some plants with fleece whilst others are without protection against the elements, and the only difference that I’ve noticed so far is that the covered ones have more tiny black slugs in/on them, so extra caution is needed when washing!

Just below are some nasturtium leaves, nice and peppery and to the right of these is some Salad Burnet, supplying a very subtle cucumber flavour. At 6 o’clock are the remains of my Buckler Leaf Sorrel, deliciously lemony with a succulent bite, and finally there’s the last few pickings of Sweet Cicely. I feel like weeping that I’ll be deprived of this gentle aniseed flavour (and feathery texture) soon and for the next two or three months, as a small amount of this wonderful perennial herb can really transform a salad from bland to positively tasty.

I know that as soon as some colder weather appears, most of these leaves will vanish, but I’m cherishing these sumptuous, tangy salad leaves (and flowers) for as long as they last.

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Black Seeded Simpson lettuce seedlings

While some of my summer lettuces are still going strong (Freckles and Maravilla de Verano de Canasta), others (Solix and Chatsworth) have started to bolt and it’s time to replace them with seedlings that are waiting in the wings. I planted these Black Seeded Simpson Lettuces three weeks ago, and they’re good and ready now for filling those gaps. (Seeds available from Sarah Raven and Nicky’s Seeds.)

I’ve found that these 5 x 3 modules are an excellent size for getting young seedlings growing. I usually sow 2 seeds per module and if they both germinate, thin them down to one plant. There’s plenty of room for the plants to grow to a decent size before planting out, and the standard sized trays are small enough for me to try out a few different varieties in my mini greenhouse.

Michelle at Veg Plotting says that Black Seeded Simpson is her favourite lettuce this year and I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow over autumn. Meanwhile, it’s time to sow another batch of lettuces (I’m trying out Lettony, Bridgemere and New Red Fire-all from Sea Spring Seeds) and I also have some Endives ( Cornet de Bordeaux) and Chicories (Sugar Loaf, Palla Rossa and Variegata de Castelfranco-all available from Suffolk Herbs) to try out for autumn and winter this year too. Hurrah for a bit of cooler weather to get sowing.

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Maravilla de Verano Canasta Lettuce-delicious

 This is the first year I’ve grown Maravilla de Verano Canasta and it’s a real winner. Sweet tasting, tinged with red (more pronounced in cooler weather) and the beautiful wavy leaves come with a good crunch (and softer edges) . What’s not to love? It’s my favourite lettuce this year.

It’s a good time to sow some now for autumn salads and seeds are available from Nicky’s Nursery . Nicky tells me that this lovely French variety tied for first place in a taste trial by Christine McFadden (aka The Dorset Foodie) for the RHS with Raymond Blanc in 2007. They thought it had an excellent, fresh, sweet flavour and was well-balanced, juicy and crisp. Couldn’t agree more.

p.s. Lettuces won’t germinate in temperatures over 25 degrees C. Sow late in the day/early evening if you’re planning to sow while the weather is still so hot.

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