How To Grow Winter Salads and Leaves in Greenhouses, Tunnels and under Cloches in The UK
Knowing How To Grow Winter Salads & Leaves Means We Can Fill The Empty Months With a Surprising Quantity and Variety of Delicious Salads. Here Are The Details You Need. From Species & Variety to Sowing, Cultivation and Harvesting.
Most people in the UK Grow Tomatoes, Cucumbers and perhaps Peppers or Aubergines in their greenhouses during the summer. And then leave them empty all winter. They don’t understand that in many parts of the UK it’s relatively easy to grow selected salads and leaf crops during the winter for harvest each month.
Many of these crops are frost hardy, stand hard frosts and grow quite well when the days warm up. Even in the depth of winter they manage to make a bit of growth and this means that crops such as lettuce can be harvested of their leaves every 2-3 weeks.
And that’s the secret. We don’t try to grow big hearted lettuces and other crops, because any freezing would turn the soft centre leaves to a mush. We harvest the outer leaves, a few at a time, which encourages continual growth without the risk of mush.
Seed for all these can be sown in September or October .. though if later and the weather is cold I’d start them in a propagator or on a windowsill. In some cases, you can go as late as November and still get good crops over a long season.
One point to remember is that the temperatures under tunnels often drop lower than outside .. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me, they do. The tunnel’s job is to protect from rain and wind in winter, NOT to provide warmth on cold days. Warmth is its job in summer!
Greenhouses can be heated .. though it’s an expensive way to grow a few leaves.
I live and grow my crops in Zone 9A .. near the coast in the south of England. So growing here is easier than in colder areas. So adjust your cropping for your conditions. But with global warming, what was impossible before is often possible now.
So here are a few Winter Salads and Leaves for Greenhouses, Tunnels and under Cloches in The UK. Watercress might surprise you!
Here’s the short video version ….. the extended details are below it.
Lettuce are much harder than most people think. Some varieties are better than others though so check the seed catalogues for those that mention autumn or preferably winter growth. Then be prepared to harvest a few leaves at a time as they grow. Just snap the leaves off with a downward movement against the stem.
On frosty days the plants will wilt and stick to the floor, apparently dead. But when the sun comes out they soon pick up again. Depending on the weather you should be able to harvest a few leaves every 10-20 days.
The biggest danger are slugs. Use beer taps to trap them or they could decimate your crop.
Varieties I grow at this time of year include Vailman, Grenoble Red, winter Density, Valdor, Artic King, Winter Marvel .. the list is quite long. Sown early these could crop for 4-5 months.
Getting a good root is harder but leaves grow well and can be harvested a few at a time.
Seed houses sell a range of varieties but this year I’ve chosen to try Tilney. Its the one recommended to use to harvest seed for making mustard .. but I’m trying it for winter leaves.
If you love an aniseed flavour this is worth considering. It’s great in salads or with fish. The catalogues say sow in February for outside growing. But it will tolerate frost and be happy in much of the UK under cover during the winter.
My first coriander crop was grown outdoors. I’d been approached by an Indian entrepreneur who was selling produce to Indian corner shops. We grew a quarter-acre the first time and I still remember the aroma on hot days when the “oil” floated on the breeze.
But coriander tolerates cold weather if it’s protected from the wind and rain. And it’s less prone to bolting in cooler weather. Expect it to bolt once the spring comes though.
I used to grow a 120 ft by 14 ft tunnel of parsley each year for Christmas. We’d plant it in multi-sown modes in early autumn. Then take the first crop of leaves with a lawnmower and bin them. Then it would regrow and give us a good crop in December.
Frost is no problem to parsley and it makes a good parsley stuffing or sauce as well as a nice addition to salads.
Spinach is another crop that is quite happy over winter and grows well if protected. It will undoubtedly bolt in spring but by then you should have had a good crop.
There are many varieties to choose from.
There are several types of chicory and ways of growing them. Chicons are the forced shoots and delicious, but what I’m talking about here are the varieties grown for leaves.
They can be sown any month under glass. Slugs love them .. so open a few slug pubs before sowing is my best advice.
More How To Grow Winter Salads Advice Below
My American friends tell me that this needs heat and can’t tolerate the cold. But that’s not my experience. Sow it late summer or even early winter and you’ll see a crop from October from early showings and later in the new year from later sowings.
Watercress doesn’t need running water. In fact, in winter it doesn’t need deep water, running or not. It just needs a very damp or wet soil. And the peppery flavour is wonderful in salads and as a side dressing on a range of dishes.
The strangest watercress recipe I know is Mary Berry’s Watercress and Jam Sandwich!
Mizuna & Mibuna
These are both “cut and come” again Japanese leaf veg that are worth a try. They are another cool weather plant and one that can be sown any month .. which sounds a bit of a contradiction. But experiment with it and see what happens. they are some of the seeds in my greenhouse at the moment.
Fresh, frozen or dried, this is a herb that can be used in so many ways and is great with fish.
Sow in situ or in modules so that the roots are not disturbed (it dislikes root disturbance).
Fernleaf is a good variety under cover as it is much shorter than other varieties, that can teach over a metre tall.
Dill mayonnaise is one of my favourite uses.
This is a small, almost insignificant weed plant, that has feed people across Europe through many a winter. It’s very frost tolerant once the root system is well established.
Loved by many people in salads during the warmer months, few people realise Rocket is frost hardy.
The seed catalogues treat it as a summer crop and ignore its potential during the winter. Ignore the seed catalogues is my advice!
A substitute for watercress which I explained above could be grown over winter. Its sometimes sold as American land cress. Why not ty watercress and land cress and see which you prefer?
Winter cultivars can be sown in succession from July or August. The leaves are harvested .. but some people get small roots as well if conditions are kind. The leaves can get every big in winter.
That’s 17 Options on How To Grow Winter Salads and Leaves in Greenhouses, Tunnels and under Cloches in The UK
There ought to be a few worth trying in a list this long for anyone. And there are several I’ve not had space to mention here. What will you try?
See our list of What to Grow in October article here.