Seasonal salads

One of my big plans for next year is a vertical garden, along a sunny wall, to grow salads and herbs. We moved in this July, so at present the ‘kitchen garden’ is just a single hand-built wooden trough with a trellis, on the back wall of our house. However, I plan to get the most out of this little space. I had some Pumpkin ‘Munchkin’ plants which I’d started off at our previous place, so I trained these up the trellis, and planted up the trough below with mixed summer lettuces.

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As we move into autumn, I have sown different varieties of winter salad in patches around the base of the lettuces. These will come up as the lettuces are taken out, one by one. These hardy varieties are perfect to sow at this time of year – the cooler, shorter days will mean they don’t bolt (run up to seed and become inedible) too quickly. I used an ancient packet of Rocket, plus Hardy Mustard Mix and Komotsuna (Mustard Spinach) from which will give a lovely spicy flavour to autumn salads. I used to think of Sarah Raven as a bit of ‘yummy mummy’ brand – but I find myself going back for seeds time and time again. Her beautiful catalougues are always worth a read if you want ideas for combinations, the seeds themsleves are fairly reasonably priced and reliable, and she stocks the best range of new and unusual varieties that I have found.

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Two weeks on, and the Mustard and Komotsuna seedlings are now coming up strongly. I removed the tatty lower leaves from the pumpkin plants to make sure enough light gets to them, so they don’t become leggy. The Rocket is also doing ok, not bad for a packed of seeds I bought in probably 2008! If you have old seeds laying about, I always think its worth sowing them and seeing what happens – some can remain viable for years, especially if you keep them in a cool, dark place and an airtight container – I use an old jar.

In another couple of weeks, I can start harvesting cut-and-come-again leaves from these, and they will continue to grow right into the winter. I’ll sow some more too, to fill up the gaps that become available when the last of the summer lettuces come out, to ensure I have a constant supply of different leaves.

In the meantime, I’ll still be able to use some of them. I tend to sow seeds quite thickly, and thin them out to the required distance. The tiny seedlings make a perfect addition to salads – freshly sprouted seedlings are packed full of nutrients, and taste delicious. Today I used some of the thinned seedlings to top a zingy seasonal salad, using some of the summer lettuce leaves as a base, with pickled beetroot, feta cheese, crushed hazlenuts, fresh pomegranate seeds, orange zest and figs on top.

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