Although a picking a handful of salad leaves is no great shakes in July, it is wonderfully satisfying right now. To grow your own you need to plan ahead and, ideally have somewhere under glass or plastic to grow them. Sowing and growing in winter is not quite the near-instant gardening that summer salad leaves are touted to be, but there are advantages.
Summer sowings grow quickly but they also bolt (run to seed) quickly too so you need to sow little and often. A late autumn sowing provides lots of very useful leaves. I like to sow in mid October so there are a few leaves to pick at Christmas and, with luck, they will continue to produce fresh leaves until late March when they bolt and flower. Some also prefer cool conditions or they will try to flower rather than produce foliage. Most of the Oriental leaves are in this group, running to seed if sown when the daylength is increasing but making good plants if the days are getting shorter – that is why they are usually sown from July till October. Namenia (crunchy and not too hot) is good at any time of year – top of page, but Claytonia (Miner’s lettuce) – above – is one for autumn sowings only.
Lamb’s lettuce is another that is best in cool weather but can be sown all year, but needs moisture and shade in summer. It has a very mild taste.
This year I did not sow till November so there was little to pick by the turn of the year but now that days are drawing out and there are a few warmer days under plastic, they are providing some tasty pickings. The rocket, namenia and mibuna are all doing well and together make a tasty mix.
Because all parts of these plants can be eaten and it doesn’t matter if the plants mature all are worth sowing throughout spring and summer, either in beds or pots.
My favourite is namenia, simply because it is easy, productive and is tasty without being too punchy.
The mustards have to be used with caution because they can be very hot, especially when mature. The big, ruffled leaved varieties are great value and edible raw or lightly stir-fried – just go easy!
There are frilly mustards too, such as ‘Ruby Streaks’ that are just as hot but very decorative. Although you wouldn’t do it, the honey-scented, bright yellow flowers are attractive to insects too.
Peas shoots are a luxury because, compared to the others, the seeds are expensive. But they are easy to grow and after you have picked the main shoot you will get several others a few weeks later. You can use any pea variety for shoots.