Growing Your Own Vegetables - Salad Material
1st Feb 2003
There's no time better than now to be getting on with sowing some early salading material. If you have some form of heat in your greenhouse all well and good, but a start can also be made now in a cold greenhouse, a cold frame (where plenty of sunlight can get at the plants) and in a Polytunnel. For growing in what can possibly be very cold conditions, you must make full use of some Winter grade fleece. This is a fine nylon woven mesh that is used to cover young growing plants and offers frost protection to -5°C.
The choice of what to grow as salad material is quite large and in the end it really is up to you and your family, there is no point at all in growing something that no one really enjoys eating. Salading or Salad vegetables are defined in the Royal Horticultural Society Show Handbook as 'A vegetable used in either a raw or cooked state and served in salads as a cold dish' The list is long and includes Beetroot, cabbages, carrots, celeriac celery, chicory, chives, corn salad or lambs lettuce, cress, cucumbers, dandelion (blanched) endive, florence fennel, kohl rabi, lettuces, potatoes, radish, tomatoes and turnips.
A number of the above however will not be suitable for sowing directly at this time of year and you would have to start the off in warm greenhouse. Celery for instance takes a fairly long season to come to maturity so if you do have a propagator, then try sowing a tiny amount now so that it will be ready for planting outside during May. It will take anything up top three weeks to germinate and can be transplanted into seed trays when still at the seedling leaf stage when it will have the least check to it"s growing rate.
There's nothing nicer than some new early potatoes sliced cold into a fresh colourful salad, so make a start now in order to harvest them during late May to June. With all early sowings the selection of seed is important, always go for quick maturing varieties, with potatoes, use First or Second Earlies and a good salad choice would be Charlotte. An early maturing, reliable, high yielding and waxy cultivar. Plant three or four sprouted potatoes in Multi Purpose compost inside a fertiliser bag with the top of the bag rolled down to just above compost level. If there is a sign of frost, then the top can be rolled back up and even tied to up with some string until the weather improves.
Lettuces are a must for any salad and the choice today is quite large, sow the seed in a small seed tray using some seed compost and transplant the seedlings either into small pots or multi cells such as Plantpak 24s. which fit exactly into a full size seed tray. My choice for a lettuce at this time of year would be the old favourite Tom Thumb, an extremely early maturing small variety with a crisp, sweet, solid heart and few outer leaves.
If you have no soil in your cold greenhouse then this is a perfect variety to be growing in a Gro bag. Remove two large panels from the front of the bag and leave a strap in the middle to hold the remainder of the bag together. This will effectively give two small little planting areas in which to transplant the lettuces, plant a few of these on one side and sow radish on the other. Again make sure that you have fleece on hand to place over the Gro bag.
No salad for me would be complete without Radish, and these can be sown in stations in the other planting side of the Gro bag, for my taste buds, the hotter they are, the better I like them. The variety to grow this early in the year is Crystal Ball, an all red round variety of good size and very slow to go pithy.
Turnips have always been a favourite of mine and sown now under fleece will reward you with some lovely delicious, round, white roots. One of the quickest to mature is Tokyo Cross, an F1 hybrid variety that can be ready in just 10 weeks. Try sowing them in the same way as I do for my Chelsea display. Using Multi cell trays with 24 cells per tray, fill them up with a multi purpose compost and sow four or five seed in each cell and cover over with the same compost. Germination is quick with turnips and as soon as they are through, thin them down to one per cell using a pair of scissors. Transplant from the cells when they are showing a good strong proper leaf. Plant four cells into a 7 inch pot filled again with Multi purpose compost or compost from a Gro bag. Don"t leave them grow too big, harvest when at ‘ping pong' ball size for the very best flavour.
The seed company Dobies have recognised the increasing popularity of growing your own food, just to get that ‘fresh-from-the-garden taste' If you feel you can't be bothered with sowing your own seeds, then you must get hold of their new Vegetable only Catalogue which lists over thirty varieties of vegetables that you can buy as young plants. For instance you can buy a mixture of 40 lettuce plants, five different varieties for £7.95. To get hold of their free catalogue you can visit them on line at www.dobies.co.uk or write to - Samuel Dobie & Son, Long Road, Paignton, Devon, TQ4 7SX.