Salad Days: An Autumnal Experiment

Seed trays with various salad leaves

This year I'm trying an experiment with my late sown lettuces. I usually grow them in pots and some old sinks in my cold frames. Everything is fine initially, but the height of the front of frame is too low for the pots placed there and things get a little mushy.

This year I'm trying seed trays instead. These will give the leaves more headroom, but I'm not sure there's sufficient growing media to sustain them for the whole of the winter. However, that can be remedied easily if my fears prove well founded.

I made a relatively late sowing in early September of 2 rows of lettuce seed per tray - 'Merveille des Quatre Saisons', 'Lollo Rossa', 'Little Gem' and 'Salad Bowl', made easy with the use of seed tapes. That's why my rows are so even.

I've kept the trays on the sunniest part of the patio to maximise the light and warmth the trays receive, but as you can see I'm unlikely to be cropping much from them until early spring. They've also suffered the onslaught of the annual Birch seed 'snowstorm' and gained the odd autumn leaf.

I'll put them in the cold frame once the frosts start with a vengeance and I also have some fleece on standby just in case.

'Indigo Rose' update

My 'Indigo Rose' tomatoes are still cropping and I can report their flavour has improved slightly this late in the season. I've now bought the rest inside to keep us going for a couple more weeks.

Last week saw the first BUG talk of the season, given by Alice Doyle from Log House Plants in Oregon. She took us on a fascinating, whistle stop tour through the vegetable varieties she considers worth growing, which includes the IndigoTM varieties of tomatoes.

It turns out Alice is a member of the collaborative breeding programme which is developing further new varieties under the IndigoTM banner. There are around 20 in the pipeline, of various hues, shapes and sizes. Alice mentioned another variety in her talk - IndigoTM 'Delicious'. It sounds like at least one better tasting variety is on its way.

A set of posters on the Log House Plants website (link opens as a PDF) gives us a foretaste of what is to come and introduces some of the breeders involved. This includes Tom Wagner, who I met in Oxford a few years ago.

Looking back on my blogged notes from that day, I should have guessed he'd be involved as he talked about developing anthocyanin rich varieties of both potatoes and tomatoes. I asked Alice about his potato work and she confirmed it continues.

It's a small world!


  1. I'm wishing I had somewhere to overwinter salads. I've got some nice oak leaf ones in raised beds which will probably last a few more weeks though.

    1. Hi CJ - I managed to overwinter quite a bit last year using a cloche and some fleece, though we did have a relatively mild winter. I've found land cress, kale, wild rocket and lamb's lettuce can withstand being left outside, though you need them to have bulked up well before the cold weather, so you have enough leaves to pick over the winter. I've also just sown my first batch of pea shoots to grow on a windowsill - they work very well over the winter as do sprouted seeds.

    2. NB That list was stuff left outside without any protection...

  2. Your post had me looking at my outside windowsills (second floor) to see if I could fit a planter there. Nope, sadly. I have a couple of Merveille lettuces and one Salad Bowl still growing in the garden and plenty of kale as it's great wilted over pasta and in soups and, and …
    Very interesting reading about the Indigo veg. I thought that my I-Rose toms almost came good at the end but that was a nano second before the plants keeled over with late blight. I won't bother with them next year, I need something more reliable.
    PS thanks for reminding me about pea shoots, had completely forgotten and will get some going on the balcony this weekend. xx

    1. I spoke to Alice afterwards and asked whether our emphasis on sweet tomatoes might be the reason why we in the UK were underwhelmed by its flavour. After some discussion she did concede that perhaps IR should be kept on as a source of genetic material for subsequent breeding developments. I think we will see (and taste) better things down the line.

      I'm also intrigued by a snippet on Alice's website where she talks about a single watering with one cup of seawater enhances the flavour of a tomato. Of course this has set me off thinking how I can try this observation out for myself next year!

    2. It sounds like a great idea, until you see the rubbish that gets washed up after a storm! Pick your seawater with care - green flag beaches only need apply!

    3. Good point Caro. I have a nice clean Dorset beach in mind close to NAH's aunt's in Poole.

  3. Oh that's an interesting experiment VP. I wonder when you will have your first pickings. I missed the boat with salad leaves but did sow some Japanese overwintering onions for an early crop. They germinated and were outside happily sunbathing until a squirrel decided to uproot them. The tray is back in the greenhouse now! BUG? My guess is that it's a Bristol related organisation but please enlighten this northerner :)

    1. Hi Anna it's Bath University Gardening Club, the group where Derry Watkins organises the speaker prograame. I was going to link to the programme on Special Plants' website but it hasn't been updated yet.

  4. Hoping to get some lettuces going in my basement this winter using the grow lights

    1. It's around this time of the year when I envy my USA blogging friends with their roomy basements and grow lights!


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