Posts Tagged Winter

Lettuces, Winter Varieties

Winter Lettuces are varieties of lettuces that can be sown late in the season, will tolerate cold and low light levels and still provide leaf pickings for the salad bowl right through winter and into spring. Some of my favourite lettuces are these hardy types because they have robust flavours, crisp leaves and good textures.

Winter Lettuce Rouge Grenobloise

Winter Lettuce Verde D’Inverno

Timing
Lettuces mature in around 50-60 days when grown at optimum temperatures but the lettuce will slow down in cold weather, a trait which gardeners can use to their advantage. In cold weather a lettuce can stand fresh and ready to be picked for 2 or more months, it won’t go to seed and if you can protect the crop from very cold or wet weather and if you can get the timing right it will stand in perfect condition right through winter. So plan your winter crop of lettuce so that it is almost ready to pick by the first frosts of winter. At that stage it is large enough to stand light frost outdoors and undercover survive happily in surounding tempertures of -10c.

Lettuces Winter Density young heads ready to cut

My pick of varieties
To get a good lettuce crop throughout winter it is best to select winter lettuce varieties, those that have proven themselves or been selected for thier growth habit and hardiness. My favourites include:
Winter Density (Cos) a lovely solid crisp green heading cos, standing tall and fairly tightly wrapped; excellent undercover in winter and outdoors in late winter/early spring. Rouge Grenobloise (Batavian) Large crispheads with red-tinted ruffled leaves, good flavour, cold hardy and will grow happily in shade; an excellent winter lettuce outdoors. Ubriacona (Loose Leaf Batavian) This Italian Heirloom has beautiful green hearts with red outer edged leaves, performs well and has great taste and texture. Provides cutting lettuce all year and will overwinter in my garden. Verde D’Inverno (Cos) Tall mid green heads crisp leaves with good taste. Stands well through winter. Rougette de Montpelier, (Butterhead) tight heading lettuce with crisp white stalks and soft green leaves tinged red at the edges, this variety can be grown undercover or outdoors but I find the flavour is better and the heads are crisper if grown outdoors. Valdor (Butterhead) I grew this lettuce for the first time 2 years ago so I am still testing it out and cannot thoroughly recommend it yet. It grew well in the polytunnel producing voluminous green heads with large fleshy leaves. But it suffered from mildew undercover, as spring approached and temperatures soured undercover, it may do better outdoors so I’ll give it another try this winter.

Varieties
Let-Rougette-de-Montpellier.jpgLettuce-Winter-Density-Poly.jpgLettuce_Ubriacona-30.4.08.jpgLettuce_Valdor-CU-4-08.jpg
Images
Rougette de Montpelier, Winter Density, Ubriacona, Valdor

Read more about growing lettuces
Cultivating Lettuces in Summer

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Kale, Black Tuscan

Kale, Borecole or Colwort,  Brassica oleracea var. acephala
Cruciferae [Brassicaceae] commonly known as the mustard family

A Lacinated kale also referred to as Nero di Toscano, Cavolo Nero, palm or dinosaur kale. This is one of my all time favourite winter greens and to my mind one of the best winter greens you can grow. A hardy plant that, like most Kales, produces lush leaves during the cooler months, growing sweeter after frosts. The leaves of this variety are long and blistered, with the crinkled edges turning inward. The leaves are a dark green that get darker, almost black, the colder it gets.

Nero di Toscana Precoce in December sun 2009

Origin Kales are non heading cabbages and one of the oldest forms of cultivated brassica. It is often described as primitive possibly because it is little changed and most closely related to the wild brassica ancestor whose origins appear to be the eastern Mediterranean regions. It is thought to have been used as a food crop as early as 2000 B.C and known to have been cultivated in Europe, by the early Greeks and later Romans, and then spread to other parts of the World. Today Kales represent a species of leafy greens with a great deal of diversity. This variety is from Italy where it was developed in Tuscany, probably during the 18th century. Vilmorin in 1885 describes the Italian Cavolo Nero as being similar if not the same as a variety known as Chou Palmier (palm cabbage) grown in France at that time, but described as tall and not going to flower until its third year.
Propagation Sow in a seed bed in mid to late spring and plant out in summer 6-8 weeks later. Choose a cloudy or rainy day or provide temporary shade for the first week, if the weather is hot, to give the young plants a chance to settle. Plant deeply right up to the first leaves to provide good support. Plant in rows or blocks at a spacing of 30-45cm apart for large plants or 20cm for smaller ones. Care hoe between plants and provide ground cover with an organic mulch to retain moisture and liquid feed in spring to encourage fresh growth. Note I’ve grown this Kale here for the last 5 years and some years it performs much better than others probably to do with the dry heat but it is most badly affected by delaying planting out (I’ve sometimes delayed  more than a whole month waiting for a dull day to transplant but I think it is better to plant out even when conditions are not good and provide shade and moisture than delay and leave it in the seedbed too long, this years Kale did not get planted until mid September and it is pretty stunted). I would generally aim to get winter brassicas planted in July and certainly before mid August. For those in cooler climates this kale should do very well.

Crop These kales are hardy up to at least minus 10c (15F) and stand a long time ready to crop, over 5 months in my garden, from late Autumn right through heavy winters to early spring. Harvestingdiscard any older yellowing leaves (these won’t taste good) and pick leaves as needed by pulling downwards against the  stem. Flower spikes are sent up in spring and, if caught at the right moment, make delicious spring sprouting-broccoli-like greens.

In the Kitchen
Absolutely delicious simply steamed, pan fried with garlic, or boiled then seasoned with butter. It is a versatile green and can be added to soups such as Ribollita or cooked in sauces such as Indonesian pepper sauce. People often advocate eating this kale raw, but personally I don’t like it. I think its flavour is enhanced by brief cooking, as little as 3 minutes in a wok or pan of hot water makes all the difference, just until the green intensifies.

Further Reading
Kale: The Phytonutrient Master

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Chinese Greens

Leafy green brassicas of the turnip family, which were developed in the far east and collectively referred to as: Chinese Cabbage, Oriental greens or  Chinese brassicas. This group of plants really deserve their place in any kitchen garden because they are fast growing, versatile in the kitchen and nutritious, easy to cultivate and they taste delicious. I am keen to experiment with more leafy veg in this family but here are some of my favourites so far.

Pak Choi or Bok Choy Brassica rapa var chinensis
This delightful vegetable has crisp, juicy stalks with a light, but lovely, flavour and only a hint of mustard.
Known to have been cultivated in China, since the 5th century, there are many variations of this old vegetable; ranging in height from 10cm to 60cm, leaves can be the classic spoon-shaped or thin stemmed, the leaves are pale to dark green and the stalks range from white to green. Quick growing, pak choi can be picked at the baby stage in 4 weeks, mature stage in 5-8 weeks and can be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir-fried, added to soups, used in salads, pickled, steamed or boiled and dressed as a side vegetable or cooked salad. The flowering shoots are also edible and are used like broccoli.
Varieties: Canton Dwarf is the one I seed save and grow. Short spoon shape with crisp white stems. Green Revolution small spoon shape with light green crisp stems, Mei Qing Choi small spoon shape with crisp light green stems.

Rosette pak choi, Yukina February 2008 undercover

Tatsoi or Rosette pak choi Brassica rapa var rosularis
A loose-heading prostrate rosette plant with dark green, almost black, crinkled leaves and crisp white to yellowy green stems. It has slightly mustardy leaves and a strong brassica flavour. Given enough room and cool conditions the plants will form beautiful wide prostrate rosettes, as the weather starts to warm in spring the leaves tend to grow upright. The whole plant may be harvested at once or the leaves can be picked continuously for several weeks. It can also be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir fried, used in soups or lightly boiled then dressed and served at room temperature as a side vegetable or salad. It has a more robust flavour than Pak Choi and can take a strong dressing.
Varieties: Yukina yellowy pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves. Tah Tsai a very old variety from China, pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves.

Chinese Cabbage, Green Tower February 2007 undercover

Chinese Cabbage Brassica rapa var pekinensis
Sometimes known as Chinese leaves or nappa cabbage, there are two main types of Chinese cabbage; a tall loose hearting leaf variety and a tall cylindrical cabbage where the leaves fold-in to form a dense head. Both have wide white ribs and pale green leaves. The second variety is the one most commonly found in supermarkets. Be carefull when buying chinese cabbage seeds I’ve found that often the picture or description may be of the more commonly known dense form even though the variety is a loose heading form.
Varieties: Michili has an elongated loose semi-heading shape that resembles romaine lettuce with light green leaves with broad white ribs. Green Tower a loose heading variety.

Image Mizuna showing its clump form and beautiful serrated leaves February 2008 undercover

Mizuna Brassica rapa var nipposinica or var japonica
Mizuna has green serrated leaves on slender white stems, the leaves are delicate enough to eat raw and have a slightly pungent mustardy flavour. The plants are very forgiving and vigorous. Mizuna will grow on poorer soils, is cold resistant and of all the oriental brassicas it can cope best with the hot dry conditions of our summers. It is quick to mature and picking can start in as little as 8 weeks. Normally, with good spacing the plant will form bushy clumps but it can also be closely spaced and cut young to regrow after cutting.
In the kitchen Leaves and stems can be used raw in salads and make a great addition to a mixed winter leaf salad. They are also great cooked; lightly boiled & dressed to serve at room temperature as a side vegetable, or cooked in stir-fries or soups, the young flowering stems can be used like broccoli. In Japan Mizuna is salt pickled.

PLANNING A HARVEST
Lush oriental brassicas perform best in cooler weather preferring temperatures between 15-20 Celsius. These are my sowing dates according to how they grow best in a Mediterranean climate, dates may be adjusted for cooler climates. They can be sown in cell trays and transplanted or sown directly and thinned out. Mature plants will not stand long before bolting so i find it best to sow in succession and to grow small amounts at a time for harvesting between November and April. Seed catalogues often suggest sowing oriental brassicas in April-May but they simply will not stand the temperatures in mid summer here so I grow them as follows.

Vegetable Sow Harvest Spacing
Mizuna March
April
Sept-Oct
(Oct-Nov)
April-May
May-June
Nov-Dec
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
10-15 cm apart
Rows 25-35cm apart.
Tatsoi (Jan)
Sept-Oct
Oct
(Nov)
Mar-April
Oct-Nov
(Nov-Dec)
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
45cm apart for rosette 15-30cm blocks for CCA
Rows 45cm apart.
Pak Choi (January)
Sept-Oct
(November)
March-April
Oct – Dec
(Jan-March)
TP Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP 15cm apart.
Rows 20-40cm apart.
Chinese Cabbage Sept-Oct
(Oct-Nov)
Nov-Dec
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1.5cm deep or TP to 25cm apart.Rows 30cm apart.

Key ( ) means sown/grown undercover. CCA means cut & come again TP means Transplant

Note
I  have tried Komatsuna and Choy Sum but neither performed well and I was not that keen on eating them either, but perhaps I should give them another go now that I have a polytunnel and know how to get the best from other plants in the same family.

Further Reading
Oriental Vegetables; The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook Joy Larkom

Original post 9/3/2008: Oriental Brassicas

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