After the mayhem of Christmas & New Year, it was a pleasure to be able to escape to the allotment for a few hours last weekend. And even more pleasurable to witness what awaited me in the poly tunnel: a ready-to-harvest crop of wintergreens.
Despite the inclement weather, the transplanted seedlings have grown into strong, healthy plants that are now large enough to be picked. I took the ‘cut and come again’ approach as you would with lettuce at this stage. I am hopeful that this will encourage new growth and extend the picking season. I suspect that at some point I will uproot whole plants if they continue expanding at current rates.
The only plants not ready for harvest were the spinach. The first lot of seedlings only produced a couple of plants and these are very slow growing in comparison to the brassica varieties. Perhaps they will still do well a bit later on.
I only harvested from the plants with the largest leaves, but could have taken a couple from each for a larger haul. With the Mizuna I took a small clump. The harvest (clockwise from top left) is: Mizuna, Pak Choi, Fuyuna and Choy Sum (flower heads).
I only wanted to lightly cook the greens, and as there wasn’t enough to make a main dish, I fried them in a hot wok in a little seasame oil, sprinkling tamari over them in the final moments of cooking. I then added them to a bowl of hot, spicy celery and potato soup (because its still winter and its too cold for salad!).
Any type of vegetable soup will work – perhaps make the most of the opportunity to showcase your fresh winter greens by using up some of those left over root veggies you have: potatoes, carrots, celeriac, parsnips. You can also add a little cheese after serving; we used vegan blue ‘cheese’, which complimented the soup perfectly. Alternatively, the greens would be a perfect addition to a stir-fry or as a steamed vegetable accompaniment.
At the end of October I thinned out the seedlings as ruthlessly as I could. This meant removing around half to make plenty of room for the remaining plants to continue growing. I always feel a sense of brutality at pulling up perfectly healthy plants, but we made the most of the thinned out seedlings as a delicious addition to a bowl of hot noodles. In particular the brassica seedlings will thank me for this activity, as brassicas are notoriously fussy about not having their roots disturbed too much and disliking competition from neighbouring roots.
In fact, next time I would consider sowing directly into a seed bed of well sieved soil in the poly, rather than having to transplant the seedlings. The brassica’s above ground healthy looks belie their pathetic, weedy looking root system. I worry that they can’t support their top-heavy heads, but they have survived the transplant so far.
Even with minimal trips to the poly tunnel this month the capillary matting worked really well, and there’s been some bright days allowing the seedlings to put on some growth, particularly the Mizuna which you can see in the foreground of the picture of transplanted seedlings.
I was able to plant out the seedlings at the weekend, ensuring the soil they were planted into was finely raked and moist. The poly tunnel has been well manured over the growing season and is relatively fertile. I have added some organic slug pellets, which I know are under scrutiny as to whether they are truly organic, but as they are being used undercover, I hope that any contaminated pests will not be accessed by birds or wildlife.
I will continue my infrequent visits to the seedlings to water and check for pest damage, although in the first few days of transplanting I will make sure they are watered every 2-3 days. Once they have had a chance to establish themselves, I may also make a further thinning out – if I can bear it!
I have had a poly tunnel on my plot for a couple of years but have never tried growing over winter. I have had really successful crops of tomatoes and chillies over the summer but I am keen to see if my poly can be equally productive during winter. I chose 5 plants to try out: Mizuna, Spinach, Pak Choi, Choy Sum, Chop Suey Greens.
The seedlings are currently looking very happy, although the spinach had a very poor germination rate leaving me with only 3 seedlings. The seeds were sown in organic seed compost in a bright shed and then placed out into the poly once they germinated. I am using a capillary matting technique to ensure the seedlings are kept moist from below, as I don’t visit the allotment as frequently this time of year. My next step will be to thin out the seedlings and wait until they have 2 sets of ‘true’ leaves before planting them into the ground in the poly.
I’ll post an update so you can see how I’m getting on, or join me in trialling growing winter greens yourself. If you’ve already had experience growing over winter, then comment with any advice to share.
Phoenix Community Centre, 2 Phoenix Pl, Brighton BN2 9ND
Join us on the third Saturday of each month:
May 20 (Open Day 11-4); June 17; July 15; Aug 19; Sept 16; Oct 21; Nov 18; Dec 16;
Come and join us [rain or shine] from 2-4pm for fun, fellowship and fruitfulness. Help us restore and maintain the secret garden for the benefit of Community Centre users, members of the local community and ourselves.
Come and meet fellow gardeners, both experts and novices. Bring your enthusiasm, wisdom, ideas and company; hone and share your skills, make new friends, and grow good food.
Over the next couple of months we are planning to plant some bulbs for early spring colour, pot up some seedlings of seasonal salads, happily harvest, tidy up, and make plans for the year ahead.
Do you have any unwanted small shrubs or climbers: shade tolerant and preferably evergreen and/or winter flowering that you would like to donate to the project? Ring Ruth 01273 681120.
Did you know that 15 – 21 November is Brighton Time to Act week?
Our friends over at Brighton CAN (Climate Action Network) are organising an amazing line up of events, including a special climate change -themed Allotment Sunday with us on the 22nd November between 11am and 1pm.
The network campaigns for divestment from polluting industries, the creation of a million climate jobs, against fracking and the continued burning of fossil fuels, and for the expansion of renewable energy, energy conservation, cheap and environmentally clean public transport, and a better and safer urban environment for cyclists and walkers.
We hope to see you on the 22nd… if you want to find out more about the events or the Climate Action Network, pop along to their information stall at the Jubilee Library from 12 – 18 November, or visit their website to find out where you can watch a film, make a flag, enjoy a pint or even cycle to Paris!