Archive for the ‘Lettuces’ Category

Cos freckles lettuce 2

Just before Christmas, Mark from Vertical Veg  sent out a questionnaire for growing in 2013. It contained a few simple and very pertinent questions and ones which got me thinking about the many positive aspects of growing your own fruit and vegetables. Question one: why do you grow your own food?

For me, I find it joyful and incredibly rewarding to be able to pick fresh veg from our doorstep. And it’s not just picking any old veg. It’s being able to choose and grow the things that you really love to eat and that will flourish in the growing conditions that you have in your garden. In a less than sunny part of the front garden, my lettuces thrived throughout the dampest of summers and supplied delicious sweet fresh leaves, unsprayed by supermarkets (and with zero food miles) for months on end. Pea shoots came a close second, supplying a succulent alternative to lettuces and being very quick to grow (about 3 weeks from sowing to harvesting from May onwards). I also love growing food that is sometimes difficult (or impossible) to buy in the shops and I’m going to really concentrate on the less run-of-the-mill herbs next year such as Lovage, Sorrel and Sweet Cicely.

Autumn fruiting raspberries

Next question. What’s your biggest challenge? Time (and space-could do with an extra half an acre at home!). Allotments are great, but they do take a feat of organisation to fit in with our busy lives. Whatever I grow on the allotment (leeks , raspberries, jerusalem artichokes….), I still love the fact that I can harvest salad leaves, strawberries and rhubarb only minutes before cooking them if I can grow them in the front or back garden (or in a pot on a windowsill or balcony). Jono from Real Men Sow has written an excellent piece on giving up his allotment and his move to growing everything (including some ornamentals) in his new garden at home.

Space in our urban environment is another constant challenge; trying to squeeze in everything I’d love to grow, but then planning becomes the key to getting the most out of our growing space.

Asparagus tips

In 2013 I’m planning for more effective successional growing, so that as soon as one spot becomes available, I’ll have the right seeds or small plants to pop right in there, and for sowing at the right time of year to provide crops throughout the seasons. Next year I’ll be attempting to fine tune my seed sowing for autumn and winter lettuces (I reckon August is the key month) and trying not to forget (in all the spring excitement) to sow seeds for some purple sprouting broccoli, as I always regret the absence of this fine vegetable come the following year. I’m planning to grow more perennial fruit, vegetables and herbs such as Rhubarb, Blackberries, Asparagus and Marjoram that will happily look after themselves (apart from the odd bit of mulching and training) and hopefully this will leave me with a bit more time for some more ‘no dig’ trials and to sow some new crops that I’ve only dreamed about so far.

During this wettest of Christmas holidays, it’s been great to have time to reflect and imagine my ideal plot, and I wish you all a Happy New Year, and one full of exciting growing experiments and successes throughout 2013, whatever or wherever your veg plot is.

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Lettuces in the beginning of October

At the beginning of October, I’d been picking leaves from lettuces sown at the end of June and July already for a couple of weeks, and I was hoping to continue this supply of fresh leaves throughout autumn.

Lettuces at  beg December

Eight weeks later, and even after a couple of frosts, some of the lettuces are still going strong, but now I wonder how they’re going to fare as autumn turns into winter.

I know other growers, such as Charles Dowding, produce magnificent leaves all year round, but these are grown in protected environments such as polytunnels and greenhouses. Living in London, with our brick houses packed tightly together, does provide me with an extra few degrees of warmth, so I’m hoping this will give my outdoor crop a fighting chance. You may ask, why not use your own polytunnel? Well, it’s all about space. Space is minimal, so there’s no room for walk in polytunnels, and I’ve found small cloches really fiddly for both picking and watering. I guess large arched metal hoops covered with fleece would give a little more protection whilst not blocking the rain, but that means you have to undo it all and re-attach it each time you want to pick your lettuces and large swathes of fleece are none-too-decorative in a small front garden either.

So I’ve decided to keep my experiments protection free.

Leetuce at the beginning of December

My ‘Merveille de Quatre Saisons’, at the back of the bed, were sown at the end of June, a bit too early I reckon, and have now all gone to seed. My Cos ‘Freckles’ at the bottom left of the pic were sown at the beginning of September. A bit too late for them to really reach a big enough size for my autumn salads. But my ‘Cocarde’ oak-leaf lettuces are a real triumph. Sown at the end of July, I’ve been picking them from late September and although I’m not eating them every night (and sometimes mixing them with bought lettuces), they give me lots of tasty leaves to eat and look fantastic in my front garden too.

I’m not sure how much longer they’ll continue for (will keep you updated), but this year’s experiments are encouraging (and delicious). I think next year I’ll be planting a whole heap of lettuces at the end of July/beginning of August, as that seems the optimum time to get my autumn leaves off to a flying start.

Mustard leaves at  beg December 2

Meanwhile, mustard leaves (and a few more lettuces) sown mid September, but not planted out until November, have just quietly settled in, without putting on any growth. Again, an earlier sowing in mid August and planting out in September or the beginning of October will hopefully give me spicy leaves aplenty next year.

So although my timings were a little out this summer, I’m really pleased that I still do have some tasty leaves to nibble at (including some self seeded baby nasturtium leaves) and hopefully, with some more careful planning, I’ll do better next year. I’m itching to get sowing seeds already!

p.s. All lettuces above available from Sarah Raven

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After a period in August when I was sadly without home-grown lettuces, I’m delighted to be able to nip out again into the front garden to pick leaves for dinner. My butterhead ‘Merveille de quatre saisons’ (sown at the end of June) and the pointy oakleaf ‘Cocarde’ (sown at the end of July) have been giving bowls of luscious lettuce for a few weeks now, and as the weather starts to cool down, I want to see how these leaves will survive outside without any protection as autumn turns into winter.

I’ve also planted some small Cos ‘Freckles lettuces (sown at the beginning of August) that were so fantastic earlier in the year, to see how their growth progresses and how hardy they are at this time of year. If you haven’t got any lettuces on the go, but still want to have some winter leaves, have a read of Michelle Chapman’s great post ‘A cheat’s guide to salad growing‘.

Waiting in the wings to be planted are some tiny mustard leaf seedlings (planted a few weeks ago). They’re going in the same bed as my Tulips, but I wanted to wait until November to plant these bulbs, so mustard leaf seedlings are getting a bit leggy in their seed trays. The energetic me says plant these on into modules right now and they’ll put on some growth before transplanting in a few weeks, but the lazy me has just left them languishing in their trays. This successional planting can require good timing, luck (that snail and slugs don’t gobble all your seedlings) and above all, effort! I know how much I’ll enjoy having Mizuna, ‘Red giant mustard leaf’ and ‘Green in snow’ to eat in November and December though, so I really ought to get potting on straight away while the sun is shining and the leaves are still on the trees.

P.S. Off to the RHS London Harvest Festival Show this afternoon in Victoria, with the London Veg Orchestra playing from 5-9p.m. Intriguing!

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