Saturday 3 March 2012

Salad days

 At this time of year I start to think longingly of the new season’s vegetables. We’re eating up the last of the winter roots and greens somewhat wearily now. The leeks are all finished as are the parsnips and cabbages – still a few maincrop potatoes in store and a never-ending supply of cavolo nero.

This ‘hungry gap’ between the old year’s produce and the new makes me very thankful for the mixed salad leaves which are giving us some variety on our plates. From oriental leaves like mizuna and mustard to lettuce seedlings picked as single leaves, a pot of mixed leaves on the windowsill will keep us going until the soil warms up and we can grow lettuces outside.

Usually I throw together some leftover salad seeds from last year to make my own leaf mix, but back in January I was distracted by a 2 for 1 offer in a local garden centre and came home with a Speedy Mix and a Winter Blend from Thompson & Morgan to add to a packet of Marshall’s Salad Finest Mix lurking at the back of the seed box.

Each type was sown in a 6-inch pot on January 8th this year, using a mix of multipurpose and seed and cutting compost. The seeds were sprinkled over the top of the compost and covered very very lightly with more seed and cutting compost. The pots were all placed in an unheated propagator and set under a north-facing skylight window to germinate.

Each of the pots had seeds germinating after 5-7 days. They were then taken out of the propagator and placed on a sunny south-facing windowsill, watered regularly and turned each day so that all the seedlings didn’t lean too much into the light.

Six weeks later, and they are at that lovely tasty stage just past microleaf. Big enough to handle, but still beautifully tender and fresh-tasting. We’ve had a light salad of raw peas, feta cheese and the leaves and green salads dressed very simply with a smidgeon of balsamic vinegar. The leaves are still too delicate, I think, to be soaked in oil.

Winter Blend (left) contains Kale Scarlet and Blue Curled, Mustard Red Frills, Rocket Dentellata, and Mizuna.

Speedy Mix (right) contains Salad Rocket Victoria, Greek Cress, Mizuna, Mustard Green & Red Frills, and Pak Choi Canton White and so is a bit of a cross-cultural mix with mainly oriental style leaves.

According to the packet Marshalls’ Finest Mix (centre) contains rocket, spinach, lamb's lettuce, red and green lettuce and leaf beet, but even on the closest inspection I can only find one or two spinach seedlings – everything else in my pot is leaf beet.

Speedy Mix is heavy on the feathery leaves and the Winter Blend is more substantial, especially when some of the leaf beet from the Marshall Finest Mix is added. These cut and come again salad pots can be sown throughout the year although I do find that in high summer they are prone to bolting.

Enjoyable though these salads are, I’ll probably never look quite so ecstatic while eating them as these women.

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