You can grow salads in winter in the UK! Whether you have a cold greenhouse or sheltered porch, or some outdoor space. This winter I have successfully grown some salad greens in my cold greenhouse, plus some in patio planters and raised beds outside. It has been so enjoyable growing and harvesting my greens this winter that I would like to share my experiences with you.
Grow Winter Salads in the Cold Greenhouse
I was reluctant to leave my greenhouse empty in winter, as you remember from my autumn posts. So I decided to experiment growing a few varieties of greens that don’t mind the cooler weather. My choice of seeds were chard, lettuce, winter greens, pak choi and fenugreek.
Chard and lettuce
In autumn, I sowed chard and lettuce seeds in a recycled crate that I lined with some permeable matting. The matting prevented the compost from falling through all the gaps in the crate! I sowed chard seeds on one end and lettuce on the other. They germinated very well in the autumn warmth.
As you can see in the picture above, some seedlings were growing too close together. So I carefully lifted and moved them to another planter in the greenhouse. A few weeks on and they loved having the extra room to grow.
The lettuces were a definite success. They grew so quickly too and I would definitely encourage you to grow lettuce as part of your winter salads!
The chard was a little slower in catching up but grew with such a vibrant colour. I have had several harvests of chard this winter and it is one very tasty green to add to your meals.
Grow Salads – Winter Greens
I bought a packet of mixed greens seeds in an attempt to grow winter salads easily. The packet contained a mix of mizuna (a Japanese mustard green), green and purple pak choi, mustard red lion and komatsuna (mustard spinach).
There were very few seeds in the packet when I opened it. So I sowed all the seeds in recycled mushroom tubs filled with multi purpose compost.
In a few weeks the seedlings grew and filled up the tubs completely! As a result, I had to thin the seedlings out like the chard and lettuce above. I planted the stronger seedlings into the planter with the lettuce and chard growing in it. The smaller seedlings were naturally eaten as micro greens! These mixed salad seeds have given us many harvests of delicious, vibrantly coloured leaves through winter – definitely on the list to grow every winter for salads.
So I must remember that in future, I should sow these seeds widely as there are enough seeds to provide winter greens throughout the season.
Grow Winter Salads – Pak choi
I planted pak choi in autumn in the cold greenhouse in bucket sized recycled tubs. These tubs had holes drilled in their bottoms so that the water could drain out easily and then filled with multi purpose compost. The seeds of pak choi are really tiny which means that you end up with a lot of seedlings growing very close together. So again, I thinned these seedlings out like the chard and lettuce above. The extra seedlings went to my outdoor raised beds and planter (see end of the post).
Pak choi grew very quickly in the cold greenhouse and were all harvested by December! This is a good vegetable to grow as a winter salad. I love lightly stir-frying pak choi with some sliced garlic and seasoning (chilli flakes for my daughter!).
Fenugreek seeds are also known as methi. They are aromatic bitter-tasting seeds that are used to flavour many Indian dishes. They can be used as whole seeds to flavour the cooking oil or in powder form to add with other spices to your dish.
I like to also sow these seeds because fenugreek (methi) leaves are deliciously fragrant with a slight bitter taste. This is why fenugreek leaves are great when they are chopped and added to potato curries because they balance the sweetness. These leaves are also great in naan breads and spiced flatbreads, which are one of our family favourites! Methi leaves taste better when cooked or added towards the end of cooking the dish.
Growing Fenugreek (Methi)
I sowed fenugreek seeds in autumn by sprinkling them onto compost in a flower pot. I covered them with a layer of compost before watering them.You can soak the seeds overnight before sowing them to help them germinate easily. The fenugreek seeds should germinate within a week. You will find that they almost push up the layer of compost that covers them as they germinate! If you gently tap this layer, you will be able to see their little green shoots coming through. The compost needs to be kept barely moist as it does not like to be over watered. In damp conditions, fenugreek plants will turn pale yellow and will not thrive.
The fenugreek seedlings can be thinned if they are growing too close together which means removing extra seedlings to give the remaining ones more space to grow. These thinnings can be eaten of course! Once the fenugreek plants are growing, you can keep picking their leaves.
You can see a little white flower on one of the stems which I will pick with the leaves. This is because I want the fenugreek plants to keep growing leaves – if I leave the flowers, they will lead to the plants producing seeds. Once the plants start producing seeds, they will stop growing.
Of course, you can collect seeds from their pods and use them for cooking or planting again! Fenugreek is easily grown outdoors in spring and summer.
Grow Winter Salads Outdoors
You may want to grow winter salads outdoors but you may not have a cold greenhouse or porch. In that case, growing spinach beet and kale is your answer. These two greens are my winter superheroes! Let me explain why …
Spinach beet is also know as perpetual spinach. It is a soldier amongst the greens as I have found, spinach beet tolerates the frost and light snow. This makes it an ideal variety to include if you want to grow winter salads.
I start spinach beet from seeds and space them out from the start so I don’t need to keep moving them. These spinach plants were grown from seeds sown outdoors in late summer and they have continued to grow over winter. Watering will be needed up to late autumn but as winter approaches, you will not need to water as long as it rains and the soil stays damp.
We have had hard frosts and snow this winter but it has not affected the spinach beet growing in the raised beds. The proof is in the eating, as you can see from this fresh harvest of tasty greens. Spinach beet is definitely great to grow in winter as a salad!
Kale can tolerate very cold weather and I think it secretly loves winter! You can buy kale seedlings from your garden centre or start them from seed in summer.
One of the problems I tend to have in the warmer months is the white cabbage butterfly that loves to lay its eggs on kale. These eggs hatch into cabbage worms, which will devour entire kale leaves! To avoid this problem, I cover my summer planted kale with a net designed to protect against the white butterfly. The net will also keep birds away. Slugs can also be another problem but I keep a vigilant watch when the kale plants are young. If I find any slugs, I will sprinkle them with table salt and they just disintegrate!
Most importantly, once kale has surpassed this stage, it is much easier to grow in winter as there is no danger of cabbage worms (too cold for them!). The frost and the snow actually make the kale taste sweeter. My friend Sarah loves fresh tender leaves of kale in her salads and you will too once you taste it. This is certainly one robust green to grow for your winter salads. Kale can also be stir fried, added to soups and smoothies. Homegrown kale is simply delicious!
I planted kale in my cold greenhouse too as an experiment to see how it would grow. I must say that there was not much difference. However, the kale growing in my planters on the patio has shown better growth and is much tastier!
Pak choi outdoors
I grew pak choi easily in the cold greenhouse and it grew quickly and was all harvested by December! I also planted some of the thinned seedlings outdoors into my raised bed. They have grown slowly and endured the frost and snow this winter. As a result, I still have pak choi to enjoy from my raised bed! Therefore, if you do not have a protected space or a cold greenhouse, pak choi can be a good winter green … it will just grow a little slower outdoors.
I have really enjoyed growing these winter greens and salads and hope you will be trying some of these too. You can sow all these now in February too, in a cold greenhouse, a cool protected space or a windowsill.