Salad Challenge January 2013 – Slim Pickings

This is my first time joining in with VegPlotting’s 52 Week Salad Challenge – I’m glad Michelle decided to run it again this year, I was too busy moving last year to get involved. There is, somewhat unsurprisingly, not a lot to talk about. At the end of last August I decided to turn the rather odd bed that sits alongside the patio in the back garden into a salad bed. I sowed some oriental leaves, mustards, rocket and salad onions, and sat back to see what would happen – a lot of the seed was rather old. It flourished – as did the weeds – and by mid September I had started picking leaves from it. I’ve been picking leaves for sandwiches and the occasionaly stir fry ever since, though the golden Pak Choi bolted a few weeks ago and then it snowed.

The Salad Bed

Consequently I missed my opportunity to photograph the rather lovely yellow flowers when they were still vertical. I need to clear the plants out now, they will never stand up again after being buried under 6″ of the cold wet stuff.

Lots of the salad onions seem to have bitten the dust, and all the Tsoi Sum disappeared over night a couple of months ago, but the Mibuna and mustard leaves, while not plentiful, are still very tasty.

Mibuna and mustards

Likewise the red Pak Choi and the ever-faithful rocket, though I have cropped the rocket rather hard recently. Hopefully it will recover well if I give it some peace, I want to see how long I can keep it going.

One thing that really surprised me is that, despite having started to bolt, the red Pac Choi leaves are really tasty still.

Red Pak Choi and Rocket

My biggest experiment to date was sowing more golden Pak Choi and beetroot (Boltardy) in mid September. It germinated really quickly in the greenhouse, but then I neglected it. The poor plants just sat there in modules, root bound like geishas’ feet. Guilt and desperation led me to plant them out in the new raised beds, albeit covered in fleece. I figured I would see what happened.

fleece covered plants

I’m not sure what I expected to find, the beds had been buried so deeply in snow that you could barely see the outlines, but of course snow is insulating, and when I peeked, everyhting is growing away really well.

Pak Choi and Beetroot

Best of all, the not-quite-germinated Pak Choi plant is – slowly – growing away. A true survivor. I’ll grab the occasional leaf for a salad, but really I want to leave these to see if they will grow large enough to use in a stir fry.

Beetroot leaves

I love the look of the beetroot leaves, but they are too tough to eat, so I think I had better leave them and see what happens. You never know, I may get a really early beetroot crop.

The question is, what do I do now? My tiny propagator is full of shallots and peppers, but I am sorely tempted to try sowing some more salad leaves, mibuna and perhaps some of the winter lettuce I think I still have lurking somewhere. What do you think? Worth a go? Indoors on a sunny windowsill? I know germination and then growth will be slow, and it is not the Charles Dowding approved method, but I have definitely got the bug for being able to pick fresh leaves for my sandwiches in the middle of winter. Next year I want to try a planter or two in the conservatory, which gets almost as much light as the greenhouse but tends to be about 2C warmer thanks to the surrounding house walls. That way I won’t get rain running down my back when I nip outside to grab lunch on a wet day…

For more posts about trying to grow salads 52 weeks of the year check out VP’s blog, which has links to other experimenters.

40 Comments


  1. I love your raised beds and the fact you found several surprises under your fleece :)

    My rocket has been very moribund this year for some reason. It’s heartening to know it’s been its usual reliable self for you.

    Good point over at mine re adding salad leaves to the experiments. Many of the mixed leaves packets claim they’re suitable for year-round sowing, so look like they’re worth a try. I’ve also been pondering my heated propagator this morning – how much further forward can I get those first shoots poking their noses through the soil? I know peas aren’t usually grown in a propagator, but I’m finding these experiments fascinating…

    I’m so glad you have the time to join in this year – your insights are going to be a great contribution to the Challenge :)


    1. Hi VP, I’m just grateful that so far the under fleece surprises have been good ones! I’ve had a few bad ones in my time…
      Sorry about your rocket – and why not use a heated propagator for pea shoots? It has to be tried… I am off to rootle around for a packet of mixed salad leaves! Apparently the weather is going to get warmer again, so I am optimistic. Until they forecast the next cold snap I find myself trying to explain to TNG that my seedlings really do need to live in the study after all…


      1. NAH has come to realise that he’ll just have to live with crowded windowsills just as I know he’ll scatter bits of Hi-Fi and steam engine all over the place ;)

        Since I posted my comment, I’ve made a long list of follow-up experiments to do. That’s the beauty of trying things out, it always leads to at least 10 further questions which need answering!


  2. I don’t think that is slim pickings! I’m very interested in your red pal choi, I bought some last year at Chelsea, I thought it might be a bit more tender than the green variety so haven’t sown it yet, you have inspired me to try. Christina


    1. Hi Christina, I am a real fan of red Pak Choi, it is really tasty, and very pretty. It doesn’t grow as quickly or as large as the golden form, but I certainly think it is worth trying.


    1. Good luck! I wonder how long seed will take to germinate at this time of year. I think I am assuming it will pop up and then just stop for a few weeks until the light levels and the temperature increase. Fun to try though!


  3. This is a really inspiring post, Janet – I have various seedpackets of rocket and leaves, some of which were never sown in the first place, and it seems silly to be buying salad leaves at this time of year when I could be growing them. I did have some rocket which fed me throughout 2011, after having self-seeded from the previous year, so I know it’s possible and just need to get round to doing it! AND it’s an inside job, apart from getting to the greenhouse or shed for compost, if I start them off in a tray. Thanks for the prod!


    1. Hi Cathy, happy to have inspired you, but I am not sure you – or I – will be eating anything from sowings we make now for quite a few weeks… But it is worth trying, and as you say, a very welcome inside job!


  4. I have never had any success with pak choi, but Chinese greens do pretty well. Overwintering leaves seem to germinate ok but they they just sit there and do nothing. You were lucky yours survived outside.


    1. Hi Elaine, I wonder why you don’t find Pak Choi works well for you? I, on the other hand, have terrible trouble with Tsoi Sum… I remain amazed that anything other than the rocket survived and remained edible outside after the frosts and snow.



  5. Hi Janet,

    Such a novelty seeing green stuff… Haven’t had any of that for a couple of weeks! :D
    Must stop moaning ;)

    Perhaps the only thing I feel is worthwhile growing myself; lettuce/green leaves. Will have to get to it in the coming weeks/months. I’m intolerant to most fruits as I’m now discovering so it was pointless me buying berry bushes/plants.


    1. Oh no, what a thing to be intolerant of – will your other half enjoy the fruit? Sowing salad leaves is very rewarding given how much more tasty they are than the shop bought criminally expensive pillow bags, so good luck to all of us witjh that!


  6. Just go for it!! You won’t know til you try. :) Love seeing all your green. Brown and dormant here. Ugh! It’s been years since I grew lettuce. You’re giving me the bug to try again.


    1. I was amazed that the Pak Choi kept going all through the winter, it has spurred me on to make plans for next winter. Happy salad growing – lettuce has to be one of the easiest wins in the veg garden, so tasty and if you can avoid the slugs, so reliable.


  7. Very impressive, Janet and not at all ‘slim.’ My veg beds are shaming in comparison with just onion and garlic shoots sitting there impassively. Sulking. I really like your raised beds – I made mine from too thin timber and now, after just three or four years, they are beginning to rot. I shall make them sturdier next time. Dave


    1. Hi Dave, the Pak Choi flower shoots are upright again, so I really must harvest them – never eaten them before… No onions or garlic here, sulking or otherwise, though I have sown some shallot seed, just to see. I like the raised beds too! I got talked in to using sturdier timber by a guy at the timber yard who grows veg in beds made from the same stuff. Mind you, I really should have levelled them out properly before filling them. There again, I never have been a neat and tidy gardener, so at least they are in keeping with the overal ambience!


  8. I didn’t know about this challenge. It seems to me that you’re going to pass with flying colours. I have rainbow chard that has been growing for about 9 months, not sure if its edible though.


    1. Hi b-a-g, early days on the challenge as yet, still 11 months to go! I love rainbow chard for its colour, but have never found a way of cooking it that we like. Am going to grow it again this year, but just for the leaves, for salads. That’s the plan – I’m sure in about six months you will see a photo of full size chard plants in my beds!


  9. Janet, the patio salad bed looks like it might be benefitting from being nearer the house? You can at least nip out in your snowshoes to pick it. Very impressed with the raised beds.
    p.s. loved your winter wonderland walk down by the bay


    1. Hi Laura, I’d never thought about the possible advantage to the salad bed being so close to the house, you could be right. Love the idea of going out and picking leaves in snow shoes, though thankfully all snow has fled the area, now just wet. Glad you enjoyed the winter walk!


  10. Definitely try planting more! I have recently gotten interested in extending the garden season here and found some local gardeners with great information on plants that prefer the colder weather (you might want to look at The Year Round Veggie Gardener) You’ve discovered mustard already, arugula is another, also mizuna and kale. Amazing how much can be grown in a much longer season.


    1. Hi Marguerite, I have an equivalent book that I am hoping will help me have edibles year round, and a plan for using the greenhouses better to aid in that endeavour. Unfortunately, it all depends on me suddenly becoming a consistently organised gardener, which could be a challenge too far!


  11. I think you have done really well Janet, as the grass grows through most of winter here I wonder if I could get something worth while growing instead,
    glad you had just enough but not too much snow, Frances


    1. Hi Frances, I bet you could grow winter hardy lettuce, rocket and mibuna up there, just a case of remembering to sow them in September to get them to a decent size I think. Maybe next year?


  12. This crazy weather has winter crops very confused. Your garden beds look great and the bok choy and beets are great veggies!! We get fresh beets from our farmer every week…we really enjoy them.


    1. Hi Janet, I am really pleased with the raised beds. I only discovered beetroot a couple of years ago, it was one of those things I had always hated until I had the home grown version. Now I can’t get enough!


  13. Glad to hear that you are joining in ‘The Salad Challenge’ Janet and look forward to seeing and reading about your 2013 crops. Have a go with the salad leaves :) I started some last January in unheated propagator in cold greenhouse. As for me I must find my va va voom and get cracking – might do so now that it is slightly warmer. I like your new template – it’s inviting and very restful on the eye.


    1. Hi Anna, I will be trying with the salad leaves just as soon as my compost arrives! So frustrating, can’t get to a shop, and anyway the local selection is dire, but the snow has delayed delivery… Good luck recovering your va-va-voom, hopefully your beautiful snowdrops will lure you back in to gardening! Really glad you like the new template, I wanted something lighter and more open to reflect the new place.


  14. I’d say it’s worth a go. You already have a very good start! I’m really hungry for fresh lettuce lately. I’d like to plant some this summer, but I don’t think I have enough sun. We’ll see… Good luck with yours!


    1. I will certainly have a go, nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that – just as soon as my compost delivery makes an appearance!


  15. I’m always surprised as the sudden shift from slim pickings to way more than a household can go through. In my meager January veggie garden it’s feeling pretty slim as well, but I know there’s a shift into high gear soon ahead, chard, kale, peas, fennel all coming into their own…


    1. Sounds as if you have some really tasty treats on their way James. Looking at my vege seed order, I think I am in danger of forgetting that we are now only a 2 person household…


  16. You are inspiring me to have a go, I will be watching what you are doing and when, I really ought to be growing things over the winter. The only problem will be persuading someone to make a path up to the top of the garden as it is always so soggy this time of year!


    1. Hi Pauline, I am not at all sure I am the right person to be basing your winter growing experiments on, I am a babe-in-arms when it comes to growing at this time of year, but I am glad you are feeling inspired. We can all learn together!


  17. I have salads growing on my windowsill and am a fan of growing it whenever I can! I loe your Pak Choi, it’s looking really healthy. I saw a gorgeous planter of that this weekend at Harlow Carr and never even thought about growing it but it looks like it’s really hardy! Great post!


    1. Hi Anna, I was amazed at how hardy the Pak Choi proved to be, though admittedly this is a maritime climate so perhaps milder than I was used to at the edge of the Cotswolds. As soon as my compost order turns up I am planning on trying some salad leaves in the conservatory – warmer, and no rain down my back when I am picking…


  18. My challenge is to get a longer season of salad leaves. I’m hoping that’s where the greenhouse will come in useful. I’ve got plans for pea shoots. I’ve got a very hardy variety so I’m going to sow them soon. I think lack of light is the main problem. It’s so dull here. My plants need a SAD light too.

    I’m very envious of the compost in those beds. Where did you get it from? I’m struggling to find a supplier locally. The council green waste is being sent out of the county now because the company who used to turn it into compost had their licence revoked for not doing it properly.


    1. Hi WellyWoman, I am hoping to use my greenhouse for more edibles this year, but as you say, it is the lack of light that is the issue.

      Ahh, the compost – it is a mix of well rotted manure and mushroom compost, and I got it from http://www.farmyard-manure-and-mushroom-compost.co.uk. It was the best price I could find that would deliver out here in the wilds of Wales, although if I had a trailer I could pick manure up quite cheaply. But I don’t. But green waste being sent out of the county? That’s a pain! At least I stand a chance of picking up some of that this Spring, although quality of green waste is so variable. I am about to place an order for some compost rather than manure, as I need something finer. It is sucking up my garden budget faster than I would have thought possible… Good luck finding a source!

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