The Salad Challenge – February’s progress

My original enthusiasm for the 52 Week Salad Challenge seems to have diminished a little, which is a shame. I have been distracted by the problems we have been experiencing with the snow and cold, but I think also I am frustrated at what feels like just tinkering with putting food on a plate rather than getting outside and ‘really’ growing it.

I have continued to experiment with sprouting other things than my staple chickpeas, mung beans and alfalfa. The big success has been Puy or green lentils, which taste very similar to mung beans and grow as quickly. They have an advantage over mung in that they do not shed their outer skin. This skin tastes papery and can distract from the overall satisfaction of eating mung sprouts and I often remove as many as I can. To have an easily available alternative without that inconvenience is good news.

I have also tried quinoa (pronounced keenwa), which, for anyone who is not familiar with it, is a grain of the amaranthus family. It is popular with people with a gluten intolerance since it contains no gluten. I was warned to rinse them very well because the outer casing is high in saponins, which are a mild gastrointestinal irritant. What I noticed was that the water I rinsed them in was cloudy. The grains were quick to germinate but then reached about one cm in length and stopped growing. Sprouts need either to come from large seeds like chickpeas or to grow a good sized sprout (alfalfa, for example), otherwise they are a pretty disappointing mouthful. Quinoa failed that test and, worse still, was virtually tasteless. I left them several days hoping for more growth that just didn’t come, during which time the cloudiness of the rinsing water worsened, which put me off them completely. I tried growing them twice and threw them away both times.

The only other observation I have to make on sprouts is a failure of one batch of chickpeas. I have known chickpeas to start sprouting while I am still soaking them. They are the sprinters of the sprouting world. But during the recent very cold weather one batch barely sprouted at all. Other people on the salad challenge noted the same thing although we disagreed as to whether it was the cold or the low light levels that caused it. I am pretty convinced that in my case it was primarily lack of light, a second batch, started when it was still as cold but the days were sunny, germinated well.

Coriander micro greens

I had a bit of a disaster with my first attempt at micro greens (see here) but I tried again. This time I grew peas, coriander and parsley and instead of leaving them under the north-facing roof light each day I brought them into the kitchen in as much light as I could find. In a small kitchen this is, frankly, a nuisance. The results have certainly been better, the pea sprouts grew well and were not at all leggy, the coriander germinated very well, albeit a little leggy. Mark Diacono (@markdoc) of Otter Farm suggests eating the coriander as soon as the seed leaves have formed for the most intense flavour. He is not wrong – the flavour is immense. The pea sprouts have a wonderful ‘mange-tout in a leaf’ taste. Disappointingly, having pick the tops from the peas, rather than regrowing about half of them keeled over and died.

The parsley, which I am not treating just as a micro green, I shall grow on some of the better seedlings, germinated very well but were, once again, horrendously leggy. With these I followed the advice of Alys Fowler (@alysfowler) on Twitter and spread more compost on top to cover the long spindly stems. I damaged one or two in the process but the rest really responded well and are now growing slowly but strongly. What excellent advice.

One comment I would make about micro greens is that the amount you can harvest from one tray is very small, you still need fully grown salad leaves to make a proper sized plateful. This just makes me all the more determined to over-winter salads successfully this year.

My apologies for the paucity of photographs, I have definitely been distracted by this stuff:

The potager is under here somewhere


16 responses to “The Salad Challenge – February’s progress

  1. You have me thinking I will do more with my greenhouse & salads this year, instead of just outside in my raised beds + I have cress going in the kitchen !

  2. Great info, Gilly. But how is it that this is my first visit here?! I feel like an old friend.

  3. What a fun and entertaining entry. I will definitely not be trying Keenwa!

  4. Hi Gilly – hurray your link worked from my blog 🙂

    I think we’ll see a big change next month when the growing season really gets going. It’s good to know that we have some ’emergency’ crops up our sleeves in case the leaves we sow in September/October keel over if the winter’s bad.

    I don’t think it’s just the distraction of snow. We’ve experimented and tried new things and learned loads in the process, but now it’s time to move onto much bigger leaves for our salad!

    • Hello Michelle: WordPress put your comment in the Spam box – how rude!
      I think this couple of months sprouting and micro greening will pay dividends next year, adding extra interesting flavours to the greenhouse stuff and the hardy stuff, and as you say, tiding us over if all else fails. And hasn’t it been fun!

      • What a naughty Spam box! 😉

        It’s been loads of fun and lots of surprises too.

        Forgot to mention in my last comment how fast Quinoa is to sprout – it often starts during the first soak!

  5. Sounds yummy…can i make a good plant from co-op bought herbs or shd i buy from a proper herb place?? The ones nearby have really small plants…i only have a really small space ..

    • Hello Sue. If by co-op herb plants you mean trays of lots of tiny plants, with just a few leaves each rather than one developed plant, I think they will be like micro greens – you could harvest them, leaving a few lower leaves and they hopefully will regrow more leaves. But this quickly exhausts the plant and you can probably only get two or three harvests. It is hard, maybe impossible, to grow any of them to a full grown plant because of the way they have been ‘forced’. For that you need to buy a true plant. Bear in mind though that I am no expert at micro greens – as you will have seen from the blog post! Good luck.

  6. Very interesting!
    Thanks for sharing your experience with micro-greens.
    Great snow photo, too!
    Lea’s Menagerie
    Mississippi, USA

  7. Sounds like the challenge was bigger than the reward! Still, it’s good to set ourselves goals and if something does not work, try something else! I’ve had many gardening disasters as I can’t exactly go to the local store and buy a gardening mag or get books on growing veg in Portugal. So everything is tral and error.
    I set myself a challenge to keep a monthly diary of what grows successfully and what does not.

    sorry I missed the comment you kindly left on my blog.

    • Hello PIP: in terms of putting food on the plate it has been a little disappointing, but it has been interesting watching what others are doing, sharing ideas, learning and it has helped me get back to blogging again.

      And gardening in a foreign country is hard – without Twitter and bloggers it would be much, much harder.

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