Successional Sowing – Autumn & Winter Salads
Back at the very end of July, I took a look at the state of garlic and potato crops in the second raised bed and realised that they’d probably both done as much growing as they were likely to. So I decided to whip them out of there and indulge in a spot of successional sowing.
One of the keys to getting the best from a backyard kitchen garden is to use your limited space for maximum production, without disturbing your crop-rotation system. Which is why I decided to plant a few autumn & winter salad leaf crops (pak choi) in the space where the garlic had been growing and some quick-growing leaves and mini-tubers (cress, rocket, beetroot and radish) alongside spring onions in the section where the spuds were and the garlic will be next year.
Here’s what the bed looked like before I started:
The first job was to lift the garlic bulbs (which weren’t quite as impressively proportioned as the last batch, but still made for a reasonable haul:
That lot was put into the greenhouse to dry. And then it was the turn of the spuds:
I wasn’t expecting a huge crop as these were all either supermarket-sprouters or leftover spudlets from last season that had popped up elsewhere and just been transplanted into the raised bed to fill a gap or two. But still, as I mentioned a while back, I got a reasonable mix of tubers of assorted sizes.
With the bed clear, it was time some essential soil improvement. I’m usually a big fan of the no-dig method – mulching over the Autumn and letting the worms, the rains and winter’s frosts do the work of incorporating the organic matter into the soil, or raking in a top-layer of compost in the Spring before planting – but when I dug up the spuds I discovered a bit of a problem.
It turned out that the tonne of ‘premium, organic-matter rich’ soil that I invested in when the beds were constructed last year actually contains quite a lot of heavy clay material, which has become incredibly dense and sticky over the past 12 months. There was a lot more clay in the potato end of the bed, but I think that’s mainly because the garlic end was partially in the rain-shadow of the sycamore tree that dominates that end of the garden, so hadn’t become as damp or water-logged through the year.
So, anyway, I decided to dig over and break up the entire bed before sowing the new crops and by doing so, hopefully improve drainage in the longer-term. Nothing for it but to set to with fork and rake and hack into all that clay-rich soil:
It took the best part of an hour, probably a bit longer than it might have as I was also doing my best to retain the 50-50 partition between the two halves of the bed to maintain my 4-bed rotation system without mixing the soils up too much. Here’s some of that heavy clay I mentioned:
Had to take the spade to that, slice and dice before breaking it down further with the rake.
I also took the opportunity to mix in some once-used compost; from a couple of this year’s potato sacks (for the potato end of the bed) and from a couple of long trays of beetroot that failed to germinate properly back in April, when everything was so damn hot.
I ended up with a reasonably tilth that wasn’t too coarse; fine enough to chance sowing a selection of those aforementioned salad crops: two varieties of spring onion and four varieties of pak choi, plus American land cress, rocket, beetroot and radish.
When we got back from our Devon and Cornwall holiday a fortnight later, I was pleased to see that everything had germinated, and with some alternating warm / wet weather since then, all that tasty salad stuff seems to be coming along nicely:
I think I’ll thin out the beetroot and radish before too long, before they get too crowded. And then the longer-term plan is to harvest the rocket and land cress when it’s ready in order to make way for next year’s garlic crop (I’ve already ordered the seed stock in from www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk) to go in and then overwinter alongside the spring onions.
The four pak choi rows at the far end of the bed can remain in place a little longer; that section won’t be needed again until I’m ready to plant out next year’s runner beans in May or June. And if I end up harvesting the pak choi earlier than that I can always plant some spring lettuce.
If anyone has any suggestions as to other good, quick growing, productive interim crops, please do leave a comment below and let me know.