It might seem weird, writing about salads as we career headlong into the darkest days of the year. But trust me, there’s plenty to be munching on, if you know where to look and what to grow. And crisp winter salads are sometimes the best of all – the perfect ‘detox’ antidote to too much stodgy food and the inevitable boozy excesses of the season.
What with the chaos of starting house renovations, I’ve only just got round to weeding the salad crops I sowed in the greenhouse in mid October, after clearing away the tomato plants. Last year I was much more organised and I was already picking my winter salads in December. Nonetheless, my plucky little kales, mustards, mizunas and rockets have stuck two fingers up at the dreary weather and grown away nicely.
I’ll probably not harvest them this side of new year – I’ll let them gather their strength over the winter and start harvesting once the days lengthen and growth begins again in February. It seems like a long wait for baby leaves, but the greenhouse would be almost empty otherwise, and what a delight it will be to harvest fresh salad leaves months ahead of the outdoor lot.
As long as the mild weather continues, there will still be wild greens to forage, such as chickweed and dandelions. They can be slightly bitter, but they add a wonderful bite to salads when mixed with ordinary lettuce. I find a salad dressing sweetened with maple syrup or honey works a treat with them.
If you’ve still got old growbags hanging around, don’t chuck them. They make ideal mini salad bars, sown with quick-growing crops such as lettuce, cress, salad rocket and radishes from late winter to early spring. They’ll be up and away in no time, and finished by the time you need space for the toms and cucumbers in late May.