Grow your own tasty winter greens

For veggie gardeners wanting  quick returns there is a good variety of winter greens that can be sown now for harvesting from May onwards.

Lettuce, endive and radicchio are crunchy, colourful salad greens, and endive and radicchio have a slightly bitter flavour that adds depth to the salad bowl.

Peppery greens like Pak Choy and Mustard add another dimension to salads and are also tasty in stir fries and soups.

Swiss chard and cabbage are winter staples for every kind of culinary preparation,  from raw to roasted. Cabbage is generally a long crop, but baby cabbage quicker to harvest, from June onwards. There is also baby spinach ‘Lazio’ that has harvest-ready leaves within 35 days.

Getting started

All these greens need full sun in winter, and fertile well-composted soil that drains well. Lettuce is frost tender so should be grown in a sheltered spot or protected with frost cloth. 

Before sowing in-situ, level the prepared soil with a rake, breaking down any soil clods and remove sticks and stones. Sow seed in rows at the recommended depth, cover and press down lightly to bring the seeds into contact with the soil. 

Seed can also be sown in seed trays. Make sure the germination mix is damp and cover the seeds with a light layer of  germination mix or perlite and press down lightly. 

It is important to keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated. Seedlings can also be given a boost two weeks after germination by watering them with a liquid fertiliser like Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger. After that it is only necessary to fertilise the vegetables once every six weeks.

What to plant 

Lettuce grows and tastes better in the cooler months. Loose leaf types are quicker to harvest and have a longer picking period. For a variety Kirchhoffs ‘Lettuce Mixed’ contains a selection of red and green lettuce with varied leaf types. There is also the red leaved Lollo Rosso. 

Pick the outer leaves as new leaves grow from the centre. Keep the soil consistently moist. Drought stressed lettuce develops a bitter taste. 

Radicchio ‘Red Treviso’ (RAW seed) has tender, slightly bitter leaves turn deep red with white midribs once the weather cools. Plants grow 15 -20cm high and if the head is cut off carefully, the plant will regrow and produce another head. Water well otherwise the leaves get too bitter. The younger the leaves, the less bitter they are.

Endive Chicory Catalogna Bi-colour blend (RAW) has curly-edged leaves that have a slightly bitter taste, which is reduced with blanching. Besides salads, it can be cooked with spinach.

To reduce the bitterness, blanch the inner leaves  by drawing up the outer leaves and tie them up loosely (as with cauliflowers), two weeks before harvesting. 

Kirchhoffs has red and green baby cabbage varieties that mature within 55 to 65 days.  The plants are compact and develop firm, round heads with a sweeter flavour than larger cabbages. They are ideal for small spaces and containers. 

 Swiss chard can be sown year round but it too does better in cooler weather. A firm favourite is Kirchhoffs Swiss chard Mixed which has pink, yellow, orange, red and white stems. It is pretty  enough to plant in the flower garden, yet delicious to eat.  The leaves are ready for harvest from 60 days after germination.

Pak Choi  (RAW) has soup-spoon like leaves that are crisp, tender and with a slight mustard tang. Chop or tear them into salads, add to stir fries and any Asian-inspired dish. harvest baby leaves within 30 days mature leaves within 60 days. 

Mustard greens (Kirchhoffs) have peppery bright green ruffled leaves that mellow in flavour when cooked. It also grows well in containers. the first leaves ready for picking within three weeks Pick the outer leaves, like spinach or as a cut and come again vegetable.

Article published in the Citizen