Oriental greens for your British winter vegetable garden
Now is the time to begin sowing Oriental greens in your vegetable garden. The second half of summer is ideal for planting these tasty salad leaves. The soil is still warm but the lessening daylight reduces the chance of the plants flowering and going to seed.
All Oriental greens cope well with frost. With the help of a cloche, a cold frame or a fleece, they will give you vitamin-packed leaves through the winter and into early spring.
Your vegetable garden will be your kitchen’s best friend this winter. Pak choi (pictured) is great in stir fry cooking. It has a firmly textured green leaf, a crunchy white base, and a mustardy tang. Then there is the delightful komatsuna, also known as Japanese mustard spinach. It is an excellent source of calcium and delicious in soups and salads. Or there is the highly decorative mizuna, which mixes well with other leaves in salads and stir frys.
If your garden does not have the crumbly textured, moist and well-drained soil necessary for the healthy growth of these vegetables, use containers instead. Container vegetable gardening is also a good option for anyone who has access to a balcony but not a garden or vegetable allotment. When planting Asian greens into containers, be sure to use a peat-free multipurpose compost, or soil mixed with grow bags or compost.
These are cut-and-come vegetables, which means you can harvest baby leaves from them while they are still growing. You can use scissors to snip off the leaves as and when you need them. You will know to stop when the plants become bitter, unappetising or try to flower.
When harvesting from the growing plants, only take a few leaves from each one. Do not cut any nearer than an inch from the base. This will prevent damage to the plant’s central growing point, and will not disturb the remaining leaves.
Growing Asian greens is a great way to introduce youngsters to vegetable gardening. Give your young vegetable gardener responsibility for a container of veggies outside your door. Very small children can be put in charge of watering the vegetables under adult supervision. Older gardeners should have no problem sowing the seeds. The seeds only need to sit a finger width from the surface, in a well watered drill.
Gardeners and cooks who would like to further explore the benefits of Asian vegetable gardening might like to try the delicious Japanese radish, which should also be planted at this time of year.
Originally from the Black Sea coast and the Mediterranean, these long pale root vegetables have been grown in Japan for over a millennium. High in fibre, low in calories and full of vitamins, Japanese radishes are tasty pickled, in stir frys and in salads. The Japanese use both the roots and the leaves in their cooking.
British gardeners should plant Japanese radishes in July for a full size crop in the Autumn. Do not plant the radishes in soil where cruciferous vegetables have been grown within the last two years.