This time of year is tricky for gardeners. So much is coming up in the garden, yet there isn’t actually a great deal to harvest. The winter greens that kept you going through the darker months are either all eaten or will start to flower in the next few weeks. But the salads aren’t quite ready. What should you do?
This is known as the ‘hungry gap’ and it really is quite difficult to manage. I have a number of strategies for dealing with this:
1. Overwinter young salads
I sow salads such as perpetual spinach and blood-veined sorrel in the autumn and keep them going through winter, covering them when I need to protect them from a snowfall or heavy frost. And now I bring them on a little by covering them with a mini-polytunnel/cloche, which warms them up and gets them all lovely and leafy.
2. Sow microgreens indoors
This is a very quick way to overcome the hungry gap as micro greens can be ready within a week. Try mustard, beetroot, lettuce and coriander. They taste lovely and you only need to let the seedlings grow so that their second pair of leaves is emerging. These are the ‘true leaves’ and are the shape and pattern of the adult plant, unlike the seedling leaves. At this stage the micro greens have quite a hefty flavour to them which makes them perfect as the accent in a salad, as a garnish for a meat or fish dish, or as a cheeky snack.
3. Sow pea shoots
Another fabulous-tasting and very quick-to-grow salad, pea shoots taste like peas, but better, and provided you only let them put on two or three sets of leaves, they’re wonderfully soft too. And the best thing is that you can grow these from dried peas that you buy in the supermarket, rather than spending lots of money on posh pea seeds. Pack them in tightly into a seed tray and allow to sprout into a glorious profusion.
4. Get quick-growing salads in the ground now
Try salads that like the cooler weather, like mustard and rocket, and lettuce, and you’ll have cut-and-come-again patches of leaves within three weeks. Just make sure you give them enough water.
5. Cheat and buy plug salads
This will mean you get some really big full lettuces a little earlier than you’d be able to if you were starting from scratch now. But it’s an expensive way of doing it and really, when salads are so easy to grow, it seems a bit of a waste.
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