salad leaves

  • Grow At Home: Rocket

    Rocket_in_seed_trayWho doesn't love a little peppery rocket in their salad?  And who hasn't gone to the fridge and found a bag of sorry looking rocket that is more limp than lovely!  The solution is simple.  And that is to grow your own.

    Sowing

    Rocket can either be started off in small pots on the windowsill, in the greenhouse, or it can be sown directly outside.

    Sow seeds inside from March to June or outside from June to September.  Sow small amounts at regular intervals (say every 3 to 4 weeks) so that you don't create your own rocket glut and instead have a nice steady supply all summer long.

    Choose a sunny spot with rich, fertile well drained soil.  Sow thinly, 0.5-1cm (¼- ½in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart.

    Keep the seedlings covered with a Easy Poly Tunnel or a  Victorian Bell Cloche during the Spring and with an Easy Net Tunnel  during the hotter months, This helps to protect them and speed up their growth.  When the seedlings are big enough to handle, thin them out a little and use the thinnings in salad.  Your first taste of home grown rocket!

    Care

    Mid _size_rocket_growing

    Rocket very quickly goes to seed once it has matured, keeping it watered well can help stall this and stop it bolting.  As flower buds appear, pinch them out to prolong cropping, unless you want the plants to set seed. The flower buds can also be used in salads.

    If you do turn your back for a moment and find your rocket bolted then you can always harvest the seeds for next year and tell people it was deliberate! This means the next sowing has cost you nothing which will make it taste even better!

    Provide some shade in really hot weather as too much sun will make the leaves tough and not nice to eat.  Also, try not to over water as this will dilute the taste.

     

    Pests

    Flea beetle are sometimes a problem on rocket.  The leaves will become covered in small holes and damaged areas turn brown. To prevent this use fleece, especially whilst its still young, and keep the soil moist. If you water in nitrogen-rich fertilser then the crop can recover from this .

    Harvest

    pasta_bowl_with_rocketHarvest lasts from April to November but you can pick your fist leaves around 4 weeks after planting.  Don't pick all the leaves form one plant as this will weaken its growth.  Instead, pick a few leaves from each plant and they will keep providing so you can ‘cut-and-come-again’ for much longer.

    Try to pick just what you need but if you do pick more you can store them in a paper bag (will work just as well as a plastic one without the environmental impact) in a cool place for 2-4 days. Don’t let the rocket get too cold or it will wilt as soon as it warms up.

    Rocket adds a great peppery taste to salads. It is delicious with a balsamic vinegar dressing, in a bacon butty or scattered over pasta.

    For grow a whole range of salads along with your rocket see our Grow at Home: Salad Leaves Blog too.

  • Grow at Home: Spinach

    Growing Spinach

    Spinach_seedlingsYou will have heard (maybe from the lips of the legendary PopEye) that spinach is super high in iron.  This, and the rumor that a scientist put the decimal place in the wrong spot thus multiplying the iron content by ten, both appear to be unsubstantiated and probably false.    However, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.  It is also tasty and versatile and can be used from smoothies to stir fries to salads. Oh, and its easy to grow!

    History

    It is believed that the first spinach grew in Persia. In the Middle Ages it then moved east to Nepal and at the same time was introduced to Sicily.  Clever irrigation methods made this possible and its journey continued until it came to the notice of the ruling classes in Florence.  From there the young Catherine de Medici took it to Frnace when she was married to Henry II, King of France. All this was playing to spinaches strenghts as it much prefers a cooler climate  than the heat of Persia.

    Growing Spinach

    So spinach is a cool-weather crop.  It doesn't like daytime temperatures above 24 degrees C (75 degrees F). Good moist, sandy soil is best, encouraging rapid growth. When temperatures soar and daylight increases (as in the summer months), the plants will bolt and go to seed.  Which is why it is ideal to plant it a little later in the year to avoid having to watch over it for problems.

    Sowing & Harvesting

    Sow your seeds directly outside in their final positions from March to August. Sow them in shallow lines quite thinly. Cover them with poly tunnels or cloches to protect them and to encourage growth, you may also need a Slug-Buster.  If you don't have a large garden then spinach will also thrive in a container. Choose a Shallow vegetable planter -as spinach doesn't 't have long roots - and plant thinly exactly as you would outside.

    As the seedlings appear, thin them out to about 6-8” 15-20cm apart. You can pick the smaller more tender leaves when they are about 3” 7cm long and use them in salads, anything bigger than that should be cooked for a short amount of time and be eaten as a hot vegetable.

    Keep picking the leaves so that a) they don’t run to seed and b) they keep on growing.

    tiny_spinach_plants_in_groundPerpetual Spinach is the one that I always plant as you only need to plant one lot and it lasts for months and months, sometimes even years.  Very easy. Perpetual spinach is not actually spinach, it is actually a chard (beet family) but looks and is eaten in exactly the same way.  Well worth planting for a regular supply.

    It does require some maintenance as trimming the leaves frequently helps improve the flavour of Perpetual Spinach.

  • Grow at Home: nutritious Microgreens

    What are Microgreens?

    new_rpoduct_2019_microgreens_closeup

    Microgreens are tiny, edible, immature veg plants.  They are ready - from seed to plate - in just a few weeks so are satisfyingly quick to grow.  They need very little space or equipment so are great for beginners or urban gardeners.  You can eat both the leaves and stems and harvest them simply with scissors or snips as and when you need them.

    As an extra plus side they are packed with a higher percentage of nutrients than their more mature versions.  Do not confuse them with sprouts which are generally grown in a jar and are germinated seeds that are eaten root, seed and shoot.

    So if you are looking for freshness and want to to make your home cooking a little more "fine dining"  without breaking the bank then try microgreens.  They can be used in many dishes and will add flavour, colour and texture to even a simple sandwich.

    Which seeds to choose?

    Most of the veg you would normally grow in the garden such as beetroot, broccoli, chard, cauliflower, cabbage, salad greens, herbs etc can be grown as microgreens.

    You can buy specific microgreen seeds which are sold in most garden centres.  This is a good place for beginners to start as they are specifically designed for easy, successful growing and often contain a colour coordinated mix which will look good too.   If you have seeds that weren't sown last year though - or know someone who does -  it is worth giving these a go as microgreens too.

    Microgreens are usually grown inside.  They can be grown outside in warmer months too though.  As you will have to do more pest protection plus remember to water them it is probably easier to keep them on the windowsill where they will get your attention though.

    Sowing Microgreens

    Take a shallow container or seed tray - the Haxnicks Bamboo Seed tray is ideal.  Next take a Haxnicks Microgreens Mat and place it into the tray.  The Microgreens mat is a made of natural materials making the whole set up plastic free.

    If you want to use a different seed tray or a container like the plastic container your grapes came in or an old take-away container, then just poke some holes in the bottom to make sure there is drainage and cut the mat to fit.

    • Check the seed packet for any special instructions.  Sprinkle the seeds evenly onto the mat
    • Water lightly - or mist if you have a suitable sprayer.
    • Place it on a warm, sunny (ideally south facing) windowsill in direct sunlight.   If the weather is not too warm then you may wish to cover with a piece of glass or clear plastic to encourage germination.
    • Mist or water the mat once or twice a day- depending on the temperature - to keep it moist not wet.  Sprouts should appear within around four to seven days.  Continue to water once or twice daily.
    • Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover (if you used one.) Continue to mist once or twice a day.

    Harvesting

    microgreens_in_seed_trayThey should be ready in around two to three weeks.  Harvesting is simply a case of taking scissors and snipping off a few.  Cut just above the mat as and when you need them.

    This is where the Microgreens mat really comes into its own.  The microgreens need to be washed but as they have not been in soil this process is much easier than it would if they had been grown in compost,  Simply wash them  as you would salad and pat dry on paper towels.

    Use in sandwiches or to scatter over salads, soups and other dishes to give an extra punch of flavour.

    You can pick what you need and leave the rest to continue growing.  However, if you feel the microgreens are getting a little large then you can cut them.  Store them unwashed  in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.  Then just remove, wash and use as required.

    Pest and Diseases

    As you are growing inside pests are much less likely but light may be an issue early in the year.  Like any plant, Microgreens need direct sunlight to thrive.  Around four to five hours a day should be enough.  However, watch out for spindly, pale growth which might indicate insufficient light.  If you find they aren't getting enough then either use a grow light or wait until a little later in the year to try again when days are longer and can meet the plants' light needs

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