Winter greens are easy to grow and create a delicious springboard for hearty salads
JANE GRIFFITHS Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening by Jane Griffiths is published by Sunbird Publishers. www.janesdeliciousshop.co.za
Arena Holdings PTY
Winter’s food garden GROWING Most winter greens can be grown using the “cut and come again” method, where individual leaves are picked from a selection of young plants. Tender outer leaves are plucked at the base, leaving the growing tip in the middle. Each picking encourages the plant to produce more leaves, providing a bigger harvest over a longer period than if the mature plant was harvested whole. An additional advantage is these greens can be planted close together as they won’t need space to grow into full-size plants. Tip: Seeds of greens with similar growing requirements and size can be mixed together before sowing or beds can be divided into blocks with different varieties growing in a patchwork. METHOD Grow in a sunny, sheltered area. Rake soil smooth and add an even layer of finely sieved compost. Mist with water so the ground is wet, but not waterlogged. Broadcast seeds evenly, using first a north/south pattern followed by east/west. Cover with a thin layer of finely sieved compost and mist with water. Keep ground moist, not drenched, until they begin sprouting, then reduce watering. In warm parts of the country, sow seeds throughout winter. In colder areas sow seeds up until early to mid-June. Seedlings of many of these are available at nurseries. If transplanted close together you can still use the “cut and come again” method. Tip: Prepare all beds in advance, making it quick and easy to do successive sowings every few weeks, ensuring continuous harvests. MAINTENANCE All leafy greens require regular, deep watering, especially in dry winter areas. Slugs and snails can be a problem when weather warms up, but winter is usually too cold for them. Hungry birds can decimate a crop and the best prevention is to cover with bird netting. Plants left to grow to full size will benefit from an organic foliar spray when about six weeks old. WHAT TO GROW Asian greens: from mizuna to mustard, tatsoi to bok choy, these add a range of flavours, from spicy to buttery, and colours from deep purple to bright green. Lamb’s lettuce: has small, spoon-shaped leaves with a tangy taste. Spinach: buttery baby spinach leaves add a healthy dash of dark green. Chicory (aka radicchio): packs a bitter punch so use sparingly. Sorrel: with a lemony, tart flavour it’s an ideal balance to the sweetness of butternut. Try blood sorrel to add a red-veined leaf. Rocket: its peppery flavour is not as hot as in summer and it’s one of the easiest winter greens to grow. Black palm kale: hardy, with dark green leaves, it adds a slightly bitter flavour. Use leaves young as they toughen up with age. Swiss chard: red, orange and yellow varieties add vibrancy and flavour. Slice the colourful stems finely and sprinkle on top of salads. Other ingredients to add to the winter salad garden: ● Spring onions and chives add a fresh onion flavour; ● Horseradish root, finely grated and mixed into dressings, kicks salads into top gear; ● Roasted beetroot, carrots and parsnips bring an earthy flavour; ● Edible flowers such as Californian poppy, violas, pansies, calendula and cornflowers grow well in winter and add vibrant pops of colour; ● All Mediterranean herbs do well in winter and their flavours can be used to infuse dressings or herbal salts to season salads; ● Autumn harvests of nuts and winter squash store well over winter, adding further delicious, home-grown flavour.