Richard Bartlett gives us a personal view on the benefits and problems of growing some of the more exotic salad crops. Perhaps you will be inspired to set aside part of your kitchen garden to experiment with these unusual and tasty varieties. Richard's notes are quite comprehensive so you might prefer to print this page out for reading off-line.
Claytonia [winter purslane]
This is my favourite winter salad crop. It should give you a continuous supply of leaves from October-May. Usually you will get 4-5 cuts through this period at least, the last couple of crops in the spring are the best, because they produce tiny white edible flowers through the centre of the leaf.
I sow claytonia outside in August/September for an autumn/early winter crop. It can be sown under protection, in most areas from August-December and in March/April. I made a sowing this year on March 5th and this gave me three cuts up to the second week of June.
Some people suggest you can grow claytonia through the summer months, in my experience this is a load of rubbish. This year I sowed it as usual from August, the first three sowings did not germinate at all well, this is because, in my opinion the weather was too warm and obviously the soil temperature had not cooled down sufficiently enough.
Normally I will start getting my first cut in the middle of September, but this year it was the end of October before, I got anything worth talking about. Claytonia will grow in most soil types, after sowing make sure you keep it well watered.
This is an excellent salad addition and is very popular with the restaurants I supply, and a lot of customers at the market we go to, have commented how much they like its flavour. Misome is a type of rosette pak choi, very similar to tatsai, which was I believe, the first type of rosette pak choi introduced into the British Isles.
Personally I have stopped growing tatsai in preference to misome, which I find much easier to grow. It has a longer growing season and is more cold and heat tolerant, than tatsai. It should crop successfully under protection from March-December and outside from late April-October.
Misome produces a rosette of deep-green oval-shaped leaves and has a slightly bitter, nutty taste? I think it grows best in a rich, fertile, moisture retentive soil. Sow outside from late March-August. I grow it in unheated polytunnels and make my first sowing in the middle of February and my last sowing in the first or second week of October. I have not been able to find any information on this plant anywhere, so can only comment on what I have noticed while growing it personally.
Also known as japanese parsley. Mitsuba has a very distinctive flavour of celery and angelica? Its leaves form three heart-shaped leaflets. I find it best to sow mitsuba in modules - from April-August - because past experiences have shown me that when directly sowning outside the weeds have outgrown it, obviously because mitsuba is slow to germinate - like most parsleys.
It seems to grow best in a reasonably fertile, moisture retentive soil. Plant out in position, when the plants are big enough (as a general guide, they are ready to plant out when the roots start protruding out of the bottom of the cells). I plant them out roughly 10cms apart, leaving approximately 30cms between the rows.
Mitsuba is a perennial, but I think for growing as a salad addition, they are best treated as bi-ennials. If you like mitsuba, I think it gives you tremendous value, because it crops over a long period - from early March-October - as long as you keep picking it and keep removing any flowers which it produces through the summer months. And, it is worth growing a few plants under protection, because that extends the growing season a bit.
Chinese mustard suehlihung
This mustard is one of my favourite salads - speaking on the growing side - although I have only been growing it for fifteen months. From what I have observed, it is very winter hardy and seems to tolerate the heat in the middle of the summer. It is truly a year-round salad crop.
Suehlihung produces long serrated, mid-green, mizuna like leaves. Like most the other mustards, this one prefers to grow in a rich, fertile soil. Sow outside from late March-August for a successional crop from late April-early October. For growing under protection it can be sown from early February-early October, to provide you with a spicy, decorative mustard to enliven your salad bowl. During the winter months spend a bit of time tidying round the plants. I also find it grows better if you thin the plants out to about 5-10 cms apart in the winter months.
Leaf radish saisai
You can use this type of radish in salads for the leaf, or the long white mooli type root. It is mostly grown for the leaves, which have a pleasant, slightly peppery, radish flavour. If one likes the flavour of radish in salads, then I strongly recommend giving it a go.
Leaf radish grows best in a light, well-drained soil, which has had manure dug in for another crop the season before. Do not use fresh manure. Sow outside thinly in rows from late March-August for a continuous supply through the summer months into the early autumn. Up to the beginning of 1999, I had been growing a variety of leaf radish called jaba, which was the best variety I had found for salad use.
Earlier this year I was offered leaf radish saisai to grow, and it is by far the best of all the six different varieties I have grown over the last ten years. Before I started growing leaf radish saisai, I couldn't grow leaf radish all year round and now, judging by this year's results, it is quite possible.
Normally in the warmest months of the year, it would grow very weakly, looking stunted and I found the edges of the leaves, went brown and it would look a mess, if you got one cut you were lucky. Anyway I have grown leaf radish saisai, in polytunnels every week since the middle of March. From most of the sowings I have managed to get at least three-four cuts off of it, and it has produced good quality leaves. I find it important to make your first cut as soon as possible, when the leaves are about 5-10 cms in length, then afterwards as and when you need them. Twenty plants should be plenty for a family of four. So I now suggest that you can sow leaf radish saisai, from mid February-early October for a year round supply of radish leaves and don't forget you can make use of the roots, if you want.
Red leaf amaranth
Sow in multi-cells from April-May or direct sow under protection late May-late June. I don't see any point sowing it any earlier, as it is a tender annual. I find it doesn't like growing in heavy soil, but prefers light well-drained soil and is kept well-watered in the hottest part of the year, but not stood in water. Because we had a reasonably warm summer in 1999 it grew much better than the previous season. I think it is a very pretty salad, good for garnishing, but that is about all, except when very young.