We have a new salad box in the greenhouse, and it is proving productive even as the temperature is dropping. I am pleased. The box was not put in for this purpose and in fact my husband hammered it together at the beginning of the summer and then filled it with multiple bags of compost in order to grow peppers and chillies. Peppers and chillies will grow to fill the container they are in – little pots make little plants; they never outgrow their allotted space like a tomato would – and so he reckoned that a big raised-bed-like container filled with several plants might produce bigger plants and a better crop than having each of them in its own little pot. This worked well to a point, and the plants grew far larger and more luxuriant than any we have grown before. The rub was that we sowed a little late. You can’t really be late with pepper sowing because they need a long season and just take so very long to go from seedling to crop, and so with a late sow you just let yourself in for a disappointing autumn, pepper-wise, because once the temperature has started to drop they will no longer do much at all. We currently have two of the plants dug up and plonked into pots and ripening up nicely on the hall table where they look a little like premature Christmas decorations and seem almost deliberate.
Once they were out the bed was empty and crying out to be planted up, but it was early winter. First, we popped in a couple of parsley plants. These were just bought from the supermarket, hardened off and planted out – I’m not proud! – and they are growing really strongly and producing lots of leaves, which is lucky because we get through a lot of parsley and the plants in the ground outside are starting to look pretty raggedy. Next, we uprooted and replanted some late-sown rocket plants from the veg beds. These would have survived out of doors but as with any salad leaf they start to toughen up when the weather gets really cold, and the whole aim when growing salad leaves is to make them as soft, as untouched and as appealing as possible, otherwise they are just never going to get eaten, good intentions or no. They are growing beautifully with the extra bit of protection. Finally we planted up some seedlings from a packet of mixed leaves that I sowed in September. These do not particularly state that they are suitable for winter growing but there is some corn salad in there, which should be good, and some oriental mustards, which thrive in the cooler months. Between them all we now have a decent basis for some good winter salads, or at least we will have, as they grow.
Generally, despite the protection, these plants can’t be expected to keep on growing all winter long. They will put on growth during mild spells and will then go into a state of suspended animation during the colder patches. They might need a sheet of horticultural fleece thrown over them during hard frosts, just to keep them a tiny bit cosy, as there is no heating at all in the greenhouse. Apart from that they should now putter happily on until spring, when the warmer weather will bring abut a flush of growth, but may also prompt them to run to flower and seed. Never mind, because by then they will have served their winter purpose, and can make way for my peppers – sown early this time.