especially Sunday 25th June and early morning of Monday 26th June [here in New Zealand]
After the new moon on Saturday 24th June 2017.
And we are after the solstice too so new beginnings call us.
In Auckland the cold weather has set in and plants in the open ground are only growing slowly, if at all.
I still can’t resist planting, its such an optimistic effort, even at this colder time of the year. I plant seedlings rather than seeds now. Then cover them with a plastic tunnel to warm the ground and protect the delicate seedlings from the cold winter winds.
The seeds sown in autumn of silver-beet, red-stemmed beets, parsley and rocket which are beside the covered bed are green, vibrant and able to withstand winter now. They will feed us through until spring.
This is a time to harvestwhat was sown earlier in the year:
Lettuce– a number of varieties mature in cooler weather – which they like.
Endive– we like the ‘tres fine maraichere‘ variety with its fine frilly abundant leaves – and is tasty rather than bitter for a long time – and forms a lovely ground cover if planted close together
Silver-beet and ‘bright lights beets’ [with beautiful colored stems – red, pink, yellow – sometimes they simply glow with color]
Giant Red Mustard is nice when young, gets hotter as it ages. [More info] It can grow as tall as me and leaves can grow up to about 50 cm [2 ft]!
Radicchiois tender and sweet to eat in cooler months so we enjoy them now
Asian greens – such quick growers! Must remember to keep an eye on them or they bolt to seed before we get to eat them.
A sprouty lettuce wrap with miners lettuce on top too
From now on we can plan for Spring planting, enjoy seed catalogs and organize our gardens to be ready when the weather and soil warm up.
What strange seasons we are experiencing at present. The plants seem somewhat confused.
Early spring bulbs are flowering now – and it’s not even winter yet! Jonquils [also called ‘Erlicheer’] began flowering here first week of May.
One Choko vinehas been producing prolifically; and another large vine has no fruit yet. Strange.
The pumpkin crop is very small this year – and very late. It’s getting too cold to harden the skins properly so I doubt they will store at all well. Previous years we’ve had heaps.
Tromboncino squashes [the long ones] are REALLY late producing fruits. Also none of storage quality this year whereas last year we had more than 20 stored for months. We are only now getting small ones to eat fresh – very late.
The summer and autumn heavy rains also affected crops of leafy greens for commercial growers as well as home growers. Lettuces don’t grow well submerged in water as happened for some market gardens!
Many leafy greens, including our lettuce crop, were affected badly by caterpillar damage – mainly ‘green-looper’ caterpillars which hide under leaves and chew the juicy, tender leaves.
I hand-picked off dozens from lettuces this year – and went back a few days later and found more I had missed – they are so good at camouflage and can chew through lots of seedlings! It’s much easier to grow good lettuces in cooler seasons when they stop being such a pest.
I have covered the chilies with a plastic bag to protect them a bit from the cold southerly winds here. More ripen under plastic than out in the open with frosts likely now.
Also the snake beans – putting a plastic cover over them was more of an effort as they have climbed up poles as tall as me and straggled along posts. They are nearly finished for the year, but have given us such a great harvest I am hopeful to get a few more beans – even though it is now May and they are from warmer climates than Auckland.
Also, under the snake beans a tromboncino squash sprawls along the ground and has some fruits – with a covering we are more likely to get some fruits to eat.
The apricot crop was very poor– possibly affected by the warmer winter – we didn’t have any frosts at all – and apricots need chilling to fruit. Maybe this year. It’s worth having frosts to convince stone fruit trees to fruit! And to freeze caterpillar pests so next year’s crops have a better chance to grow well.
The warm winter then cool, wet summer/autumn seems to have confused many plants. It will be interesting to see what does well next season.
We plant lots of different crops and varieties – some usually do well even when others don’t so we have a harvest of something we enjoy.
Have you found similar oddities too? or different ones? Or has your garden grown well through-out the seasons? If so, that is wonderful!
The recent heavy rain events created havoc with vegetable production around Auckland. Lettuces @$7 each and a broccoli head @$4.50 each tell a sad story for veggie eating in Auckland now. As the weather gets colder plants grow more slowly so high prices could be around for a while.
Our own lettuce crop was munched heavily by caterpillars so there’s less in the garden here too. The next generation is growing – slowly, but caterpillar-free now.
Time to look for alternatives!
Other salad greens we can ‘forage’ from our garden include
Young dandelion leaves,
Corn Salad [also called Lambs Lettuce],
Orange tree with endive crop
There’s quite a range to choose from. These appear in autumn/winter by themselves so when lettuce becomes scarce, I go searching for other options and am pleased to find a range to supplement our salads.
In colder weather these alternatives can be sweet and nice to eat. In warm weather they become bitter so if you like juicy, sweet salads, choose young, new leaves and enjoy them in cooler weather.
Many of us may not have used these lettuce alternatives before. I had to learn to look beyond the ‘iceberg lettuce’ which was all we had in my childhood. Now is a good time to explore these to replace expensive lettuces.
One of our main alternatives is endive. We have 2 varieties self-seed and in cool weather they give lovely sweet frilly leaves – these have become a staple for salads.
Other alternatives to lettuce
We use sprouts more when leafy greens are expensive or hard to grow.
Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for lettuce alternatives.
Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties.
Interested in our easy ways to grow and use sprouts? More info – here.
Another alternative to lettuce for salads is micro-greens.
Micro-greens = ‘small greens’ I suppose.
We experimented with growing an assortment of micro-greens – alfalfa, red clover, lentils, peas.
We used shallow punnets of potting mix/mulch and sowed seed thickly on the surface, then sprinkled a little more covering over the top. We watered them well and placed them in a warm spot. These are in a sheltered space on our patio facing northeast [a sunny spot here in Auckland].
This collection began as a very mixed collection of ‘whatever seeds I had’ and included alfalfa, red clover, lentils, mung beans, peas.
They grew at different rates so we could snip off something over a long period. After snipping the green tops above the bottom leaves, many regrew and gave a 2nd harvest.
I think I prefer growing sprouts – easier, less mess, more return for the effort. But I wouldn’t have known this if I’d not experimented and grown some micro-greens. You might prefer these types of greens – you never know until you try.
Asian greens are another good crop to plant now – they grow fast even in cooler weather.
Water spinach [Kang kong]
And many more!
Some are nice raw and others we prefer cooked, usually in a stir-fry.
A final thought as to how we use these ‘lettuce alternatives’ sometimes:
We can even make sprouts taste nice so we get nutrients we need in a pleasant form!
When salad greens are hard to grow or expensive, sprouts can fill a gap to supply essential nutrients for our cells and bodies. We can use sprouts in salads, in stir fries and casseroles or curries, in shakes or smoothies.
Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for salad lettuce alternatives.
We add a bunch of these sprouts to other salad greens – a few dandelion leaves, endive, parsley, rocket, Mizuna, etc. Then add a favorite dressing or put them in a sandwich with peanut butter – that works well.
My current favorite dressings are
a balsamic dressing or
a thicker, creamy dressing made from tahini and apple cider vinegar/lemon juice. Mix 1-2 tablesppons of tahini with a teaspoon of the juice/vinegar in a small jar. Add any seasonings you like [Salt, pepper, tamari soy sauce, garlic, etc] Add some water [2-3 tblespns about] to the jar and shake vigorously. When combined, leave to rest and thicken up and become creamy. Nice. Keeps in the fridge 2-3 days.
Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties. Chickpeas make great hummus or can go into casseroles or curries.
How we grow sprouts:
Get fresh seeds which are not treated! Really important if we want seeds to sprout and grow. Old or treated seed is often dead and just rots instead.
Find some jars and rubber bands and a pieces of mosquito netting [or some other fabric which water will drain through].
I love the circular screw-threaded jar tops with mesh inserts. These fit onto some jars I already have and make it easy to rinse the sprouts often.
First I put 1-2 teaspoons of small seeds or 1 tablespoon of larger ones in a jar as in the photo. Cover with the mesh top. half fill the jar with cool water and leave it sit for an hour or 2. [Sprouts prefer rain water or filtered water if you have it.]
[Important extra step for sprouting mung beans: soak mung beans in hot water to get best germination rate. In cool water some mung bean seeds fail to germinate and stay as hard little balls in the sprouts – not nice to eat and hard on teeth. Hot water has been very effective for us in giving great rates of germination – easy solution!]
Drain off the soaking water and rinse again in fresh, cool water.
Rinsing removes anything which would rot or ferment and makes sprouts taste good [don’t drink the rinse water]. Our jars sit on the ledge above the sink. Yes, I know sprouts grow better in the dark but I forget them there. They grow fine by our sink and I remember to rinse then drain them into the sink at least 2 x daily.
When are sprouts ready?
When small salad sprouts grow green leaves and look ready, they either go into a meal or the jar lid is changed for a solid one [to stop moisture evaporating out from the sprouts] and put into the fridge. They will keep there for some days.
Larger sprouts are better used or refrigerated when they just start to sprout only – well before green leaves stage – or they are more likely to rot instead. Look for the tiny white rootlet which first appears.
Many recipes with dried beans, peas or other such legumes say to start by soaking the dried seeds before using them. Sprouting live seeds for a day or so will activate far more nutrients in the seeds than just soaking them – it just needs more forward planning for meal production [or some in the fridge]!
Sprouts are often added as a garnish to recipes. This is an easy way to start adding them to your meals too.
Another way is to chop small sprouts [eg alfalfa or red clover] very fine and add them to a dressing or salad. They disappear into the rest of the ingredients.
A shake or smoothie can be enhanced with these delicate sprouts added too.
$2-4 dollars buys a packet of sprouting from a reputable supplier [eg Kings Seeds]. Each 30 or 100 gram packet will grow MANY jars of sprouts. Such a small price for great nutrient supplies!
Just now lettuces are up to $7 each to buy here, so sprouts are much more cost effective. Just a few sprouts will help our bodies have the nutrients they need so it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes we take an easy option and buy a punnet of ‘ready to eat’ sprouts from the veg section of a supermarket or green grocer. Still cheap greens.
Lentils [assorted varieties]
Dried beans or peas of various types when I want to experiment.
If this is a new experiment for you, start by adding a few amidst other things you enjoy in salads, shakes or veg. It can take a few different experiments to find what works for you. I wasn’t a great salad sprouts fan until I added them to a creamy dressing.
I often add a toasted seed mix – sesame and sunflower seeds gently roasted in a dry frying pan then sprinkled with tamari soy sauce – yum!
Hope you enjoy trying different options when greens are in short supply – or you just want to try something new.
We love lettuces for salads, especially the frilly types.
Keep adding to the lettuce wrap
Lettuce wrap with wild greens [Herb Robert, parsley, endive]
And other leafy greens – endive, miners lettuce [not really a lettuce], gotu kola, parsley, mizuna, etc.
This is a good time to plant a new lot of lettuce and other greens to provide lovely leaves for many months now the weather is cooler as the days are shorter.
Soil moisture is still important – even if it rained recently, is the new lettuce bed really moist and easily worked?
If the soil is very dense there is less air for the roots and seedlings ‘damp off’ with root rot instead of growing well – they need air as well as water. Add loose, friable material such as good compost
If there is an ants nest there, they keep soil dry around their home and its amazing how dry such patches can be!
We check soil moisture each day [move mulch aside and feel below the surface with a finger to decide if they need water]
It’s such a balancing act – too little moisture or too much [specially from over-head rain or watering] cause stress. Too wet can cause leaves which touch each other to hold moisture and become slimy or mush – not nice!
Keep them just moist so they can germinate and grow strong roots.
We generally plant seeds rather than seedlings. If you let one lettuce plant produce seeds, there will be hundreds, even thousands. We spread them around all over and leave some to self-seed.
Another point for good germination is soil temperature
Too cold and seeds take ages to start to grow.
Try an experiment some time and go out at mid-afternoon and put your hand flat onto soil in full sun and notice how cold/hot it is. Now feel soil in a shaded place.
Antswill carefully carry away lettuce seeds to feed their colony! It is amazing watching a tiny ant maneuver a much larger lettuce seed off to their nest!
Snails and slugs love tender new lettuce seedlings – we put a barrier around them for protection
Caterpillars– especially ‘Green-Looper caterpillars’ love tender leaves and can decimate plants when the caterpillar is 2-3 cm long it has great chomping ability! And they are so well camouflaged! I pick them off by hand when I find them. Neem spray or granules are a deterrent as they stop insects, bugs etc eating.
Black-birds dig for worms etc and throw seedlings all over the place – not good for their survival when their roots are in the air! We place bird netting over new beds as we have LOTS of black-birds!
Best times for planting seeds of greens?
After the new moon on Wednesday 26th April is the best week to plant for lush leafy greens.
The best days are Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April 2017. Also Sunday 30th afternoon and Monday 1st May to Tuesday 2nd May – time to sow lots of lovely greens!
Tender luscious, tender leafy greens are easier to grow now the weather is milder. Plant seeds next week – especially Thursday 30th – Friday 31st March 2017 and Monday 3rd April too [here in New Zealand].
In Auckland the sun has lately been supported by rain – yay! The seedlings might grow!
I will sow seeds throughout the week of
Lettuce– I’ll sow a number of varieties so hopefully some will do well no matter what the weather does this year – hot/dry/cold/wet.
Endive– lovely and sweet in cooler weather
Silver-beet and ‘bright lights beets’ [with beautiful colored stems – red, pink, yellow – sometimes they simply glow with color]
Giant Red Mustard [nice when young, gets hotter as it ages. More info] It can grow as tall as me and leaves can grow up to about 50 cm [2 ft]!
Parsley– we like the ‘triple curled’ variety.
Mizuna – an Asian green – crunchy stem and divided leaf.
Miners lettuce is coming up all over – self-seeding wonderfully.
From now on we can plant lettuce and other greens out in the open again in cool, moist conditions. Lovely.