Tuesday 6 March 2012

Easy early salad leaves

Leaving a few beetroot in the ground to grow old through the winter is an easy way to enjoy a tasty crop of  early salad leaves. I love beetroot when they are small and sweetly earthy, inevitably a few escape harvest when they are at their best and end up resembling the giant turnip of the children’s story. This negligence has a welcome result, by leaving these hefty roots in the ground over the winter and I am rewarded with tender new leaves as soon as the weather warms up just a little. This year they were already producing a few leaves at New Year, the cold snap checked them a little, but now they are flourishing. My first salad leaves of the season, they can be treated like any cut-and-come-again salad leaf. I have never tried leaving these roots for a second season, they are normally in the way once things on the veg plot get busy, but this year I plan to try.  

New beetroot leaves

The perpetual spinach is already on the move too, I know it lacks the delicacy of true spinach but perpetual spinach is real favourite of mine because it is a genuine easy option. Spinach has such a reckless tendency to bolt I prefer the more dependable alternative.  The young leaves are perfect to add a little body to an early salad, and again this is a bonus, no effort crop - I used the leaves all last summer and the plants are already providing a few leaves to enjoy now. Bright green chives and feathery fennel are growing strongly enough for me to pick a little too, I love the herby kick they give a salad.  Finally, I have pretty violas to add a dash of colour.

I have the habit of wandering through the garden in the summer, clutching a large bowl and tossing in snippets of this and that to make a salad. Less adventurous guests have been known to look sceptically into a bowl of unfamiliar leaves normally topped with nasturtiums, pansies, day lilies (hemerocallis) or sunflower petals (helianthus annuus). So I was inevitably attracted to (admittedly a little belatedly) Veg plotting’s ‘The 52 weeks salad challenge’. Inspired by the task I will be making an effort to find easy ways to keep my salad bowl brimming for the rest of the year. My old beetroot and perpetual spinach with their new leaves are a start, but I feel a planning list coming on.