I was expecting losses; a polytunnel is only a large cloche not a heated greenhouse so the temperature does drop - I checked my thermometer and found it had got down to minus eight at its lowest - plants that can't withstand that must be snuggled into fleece if they're going to survive.
I'm not a snuggling things into fleece sort of gardener so things have to be tough. I've lost three lettuces from the entire crop and that was down to over zealous picking. I must add that these are mostly organic transplants from Delfland Nurseries (I was so busy building the polytunnel I didn't have time to raise my own plants last summer). I highly recommend them - the plants have been bursting with health all winter. This weekend we had a day and a half of sunshine and you could almost see the plants grow. I picked a heaped colander full of leaves - that stuffed two large zip lock bags. It keeps for up to a fortnight in the fridge too.
I thought I'd review the varieties I grew this winter:
- Land cress - Divine. Hot, peppery, wouldn't be without it. Lots of leaves, packs a real punch in a salad.
- Wild rocket - The small thin leaved sort. The king of my winter salad. Oodles of tasty leaves with a knock out flavour.
- Winter purslane - A generous plant giving huge amounts of crunchy, juicy leaves. Bland flavour but the perfect foil to the punchy flavours of the rocket and cress. My kids love it.
- Lamb's lettuce - I keep growing this because it's easy but I'm not a fan. Winter purslane is tastier and more useful in a salad. I don't think I'll grow this again.
- Giant red mustard - Lurks in the salad bowl like a silent assassin. Hot as hot. Small quantities are a lovely kick, eat too much and you'll be calling the fire brigade. Eat young and small (mine is now 45cm tall). Another I wouldn't grow again, it's just too hot!
- Rainbow chard - pretty teeny leaves sing out colourfully from the salad bowl. Slow grower and fairly (usefully) bland. I think this one will kick into growth in a few spring weeks and then I'll have a colourful glut.
- Spinach - Baby leaves, an absolute must. Again loved by my children. Slower growing, like the chard, but lots of little tasty leaves.
- Acrtic king lettuce - Lovely frilly leaves, lovely taste, all round lovely lettuce.
- Other lettuce (lost label) - Tougher leaves than Arctic king so less palatable. Three losses here because they snapped when I was picking them. May improve with some sunshine.
- Buckler-leaved sorrel (Sarah Raven seed originally I think) - I have loads of this in the garden so I dug up a clump last October and replanted it in the new polytunnel to see what it would do over the winter. It produced lots of lemony leaves without taking a breather even in the coldest of weather. A must in a winter salad.
- Bulls Blood Beetroot (Tamar Organic seed) - One plant produced enough blood red leaves to liven up a salad. Quite tough if left to grow big so eat small.
- Curled parsley (plant bought at Narberth Food Fair) - Lovely addition to salads. One plant wasn't really enough but it has kept on growing despite me cutting it right back (to perk up a fish pie)
- Carrot leaves (Mr Fothergills Early Nantes 5 Seed Tape) - I'd never thought of eating the leaves before (thank you Salad Challenge!) delicious added to salads when small.
These plants obviously have a lot still to give but I plan to plant my usual spring salads soon: Mizuna (to which I'm addicted), pea shoots (I use a sugar snap variety called sweet green) and sunflower (really tasty as baby shoots - as long as the mice don't eat them like they did last year.)
* This post is for Veg Plotting's 52 Week Salad Challenge. Click this LINK to get lots more advice on growing salads and to see the other participants.