Stephanie Hafferty and Charles Dowding provide insights into what you can sow during late summer and early autumn to enjoy fresh salads throughout the winter months.
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Late Summer Season: As the days shorten and temperatures begin to drop, the timing of your sowings becomes crucial. Unlike in spring, where later sowings can catch up due to better growing conditions ahead, late summer and early autumn sowings should be carefully timed. These sowing dates are determined by considering the first frost and the shorter, darker days of mid-autumn. For precise timings, consult local knowledge specific to your region.
Seasonal Harvests: During this period, lettuce from early summer sowings is still abundant, but leaves are more prone to mildew, and aphid damage to roots can hinder growth. On the other hand, endive remains highly productive, while chards and basil continue to thrive. New flavors to explore include chervil, salad rocket, and various oriental vegetables' leaves.
Chicory: The best time to sow chicories is around mid-summer. Exact sowing dates depend on when you want to harvest and the autumn's warmth in your region. For harvesting leaves in summer and autumn, sow anytime after the solstice. For harvesting hearts in autumn, opt for Palla Rossa types, sowing from the solstice onwards. Hearts, also known as radicchios, mature at different times from the same sowing, so it's important to harvest them as soon as they firm up to avoid rotting.
Chicory varieties come in different leaf shapes and colors, ranging from white to yellow, pink, and red. Another option is to harvest the roots in late autumn and force them in a dark place. This classic technique is used with Witloof chicory to produce yellow chicons in winter and spring and with Treviso chicory for pink chicons.
Autumn Season: Autumn mirrors spring in terms of growth patterns, with the soil being warmer and initial harvests larger. Many plants have established root systems from earlier growth, resulting in some produce gluts during the first half of autumn.
Seasonal Harvests: Sowings made in late summer lead to a diverse array of salads that become more varied as the weeks progress into autumn. Some of the upcoming harvests include rocket, oriental greens, endive, chicory, land cress, claytonia, lambs lettuce, spinach, chard, chervil, and coriander. Lettuce plays a secondary role as late autumn approaches.
Chervil: This herb's unique flavor often receives praise from consumers. Chervil leaves resemble parsley but are finer, more tender, and possess a subtle aniseed taste. Sowing chervil in the summer is essential, as Charles Dowding learned from experience. Following seed packets' spring-sowing instructions yielded few leaves before the plants produced masses of small white flowers. However, an experimental summer sowing revealed the bountiful harvests of autumn and beyond, especially in milder winters.
The Glory of Autumn 1 – Salad Rocket (Arugula): Salad rocket, Eruca sativa, grows differently than wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) despite both belonging to the brassicaceae family. Eruca rocket is an annual plant that quickly produces a flowering stem in spring and summer. In contrast, Diplotaxis is perennial.
The optimal period for cropping Eruca rocket is autumn, whereas Diplotaxis is best harvested in spring to early summer. For a milder flavor, consider harvesting the leaves of young plants in autumn, sown 6-8 weeks earlier. These young plants exhibit rapid growth with less peppery taste.
The Glory of Autumn 2 – Oriental Leaves (Brassicaceae Family): Primarily bred in Asia, oriental leaves offer a diverse range of flavors, colors, and forms. These leaves are known for their fast growth, tender and juicy textures, and sometimes crunchy stems. They come in a variety of vibrant colors and offer spicy, mustard-like flavors.
Leaf radish, for instance, is known for its rapid growth and hairless leaves with a radish-like taste. Mizuna and mibuna feature long, thin leaves on pale stems and are rapid growers. Mustards, such as Red Frills and Red Lace, come in various shapes and colors. Pak choi and tatsoi are prolific in cooler conditions, adding a bite to salads with their crunchy stems and small leaves.
Pest Warning! These tender brassicas are susceptible to pests like slugs and caterpillars. In some cases, pak choi may be more prone to slug damage compared to lettuce and spinach. Soil moisture levels can also affect pest activity.