You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want
… But if you try sometimes
… you just might find
You get what you need.

Rolling Stones ‘Let It Bleed’ album, 1969

The vernal equinox has arrived and the garden is waking again from its wintry slumbers so it seems a good time to review my progress so far in the 52 Week Salad Challenge. You will find my previous posts on the subject here, here and here if you would like to read them.

The aim is to put home-grown salad on the plate every week of the year and technically I have managed to do that, but I don’t feel very satisfied with what I’ve done. What we have eaten has been either repetitive or in very small quantities or often both. In the garden there were only a few mizuna and mustard plants clinging on to life, offering little plus the over-wintering peas that I robbed a few shoots from. No more thanY a few mouthfuls.

I tried growing micro greens indoors – the harvest was tasty but minuscule, I didn’t get to grips with successional planting and I quickly got tired of having trays of seedlings cluttering up my kitchen work top (the only place with sufficient light). But I potted up several of the seedlings of parsley and coriander and they are growing on now in the greenhouse. I’m told I did well to get parsley to germinate that early in the year, for which I should probably thank the potting shed’s over-enthusiastic wood-burning stove and excellent insulation!

The challenge pushed me to resurrect my sprouting jars. I tried a few seeds that were new to me but quickly settled into my old favourites – chick peas, mung beans and alfalfa, plus a new one, Puy lentils, which are delicious.

So, overall not a resounding success, it is true, but am I down-hearted? No, not at all, quite the contrary. I may not have filled our stomachs but the challenge has made me think, involved me in a community of like-minded gardeners and fuelled my determination to do better next winter.

Ever since I started this garden I have wanted to grow food for all year round but have never come close to achieving it. I gave up growing main crop potatoes because blight gets them, pumpkins are my biggest (only?) success, although the mice ate most of them this year. The trouble is I get all excited about sowing and planting in spring and then I run out of energy and enthusiasm. I think the main reason is that I have never been sure what I should be doing, what crops can be grown for winter and early spring and when to sow, how to make a follow-on crop fit into a four year rotation cycle.

A few weeks ago Michelle, whose idea the salad challenge was, interviewed Charles Dowding, the well-known organic gardener and advocate of no-dig gardening, for her blog. As a result of reading this very interesting interview I bought two of Charles’ books*.


The books are just what a gardener needs – they inspire you to try something and they give you the information you need in order to succeed, plus there are lots of good photographs. He has also written a book on salads for winter, but I went for the winter vegetables one because, in truth, I don’t want to eat a lot of salad over winter, I prefer warm vegetables and veggie-packed soups. In any case there are sections on salad growing in the book. I was surprised to learn that many of the winter crops have to be started now, I had assumed one started them much later. I can’t wait to get going when the current cold spell lets up.

My plan is to grow as many different things as I can since there will inevitably be failures (our mountain winters are very unpredictable) and I will start to learn what works and what doesn’t. You never know, I might even manage to grow Brussels sprouts (which are very nice raw in salads, by the way). And, of course, I will tell you all about it. One final thought on salads: if, like me, your vinaigrettes can be a bit hit and miss you will find a great vinaigrette recipe here on Carl Legge’s excellent website. In fact, you’ll find lots of lovely recipes there, including salads made with foraged plants and even ‘weeds’.

And, finally,


not a salad but you may remember the rhubarb that I dug up and then forgot and finally transplanted to the greenhouse after weeks of bad weather. Well, here it is looking very happy and we had our first taste of the year this evening, stewed with apple, orange zest and cinnamon.

*Charles Dowding, Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way
and Charles Dowding, How to Grow Winter Vegetables


18 responses to “You can’t always get what you want

  1. Gardening is certainly an ongoing challenge! At the moment I have have a glut of cabage and broccoli. I’ve never grown veg in the winter before so I am amazed and what grows.

    I am so impressed by your rhubarb! I was going to plant mine in the raised bed, but now the bed has been infected by white mold the Rhubarbt will have to stay in the pot another year 😦

    Not sure about raw brussel sprouts in salad…

    Was it you on Tiwtter who said they were going to speak to their dad re the white mold?

  2. Gilly, a great post with honesty about the challenges of growing you own food to keep a supply going. ANd many thanks for the link too, I’m glad you like the recipes 🙂

    I think one of the lessons I’ve learnt with our garden is not to be too tidy with plants once they’ve ‘come to an end’. We’ve feasted on seed pods and shoots from brassica that ‘should’ have been pulled up as past their prime. ANd allowing things to seed themselves is often a real bonus too.

    Keep on keeping on 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind words Carl. That is an excellent point about leaving plants to carry on giving winter harvests. And a bit here and a bit there can make all the difference. Isn’t gardening fun!

  3. You are sounding very positive Gilly,

    • Chris: I am feeling more positive about the garden than I have for a couple of years, largely due to things I have learnt via Twitter and blogs.

  4. I too have been inspired to be much more creative about salads – nothing very world shattering to share here, but I have rather taken on the French style of having a salad to clear the palate. Lamb’s lettuce and black radish are constant favourites, and Piglet in Portugal, if you shred your sprouts REALLY finely, use a very punchy garlicky vinaigrette with walnut oil and added chopped walnuts it makes a fine addition to robust winter cooking.

    My rhubarb’s looking pretty fine too: thanks for the advice.

    Now what’s all this about Twitter? I thought it was all about social butterflies and acerbic media types. Am I missing something?

    MY next challenge is a roof terrace. Suffers any extremes of temperature and wind going, and I’ll have to use pots. Ideas?

    • Margaret: I’m glad your rhubarb is coming on. Twitter is much misunderstood and maligned. I’ve met some wonderful people and the gardeners are so helpful. I have learnt so much from them and had fun too. Plus it is a great way to advertise your blog and to find out about other blogs.

      If you decide to join let me know – it helps to have someone who can introduce you. It’s like a giant cocktail party!

      As for ideas for pots on your terrace, you might find this blog post about plastic versus terracotta pots and how to look after pot plants useful:

  5. patientgardener

    I’m not a salad in winter fan either. I like to change my veg with the seasons but Charles is right, if you want Kale, celeriac, winter cabbages etc you need to start thinking about it now. Have fun

  6. That blog link about pots was really interesting, as I have a bit of a worry about all types of pot. But in this case it’s what to put in the pesky things…

    I will think about Twitter. I have a bit of time next week I think to explore the whole thing, but I’m not sure I want to spend even more time at the computer than I already do. Cost benefit analysis coming up??

    • Margaret: Difficult to advise as to what to put in pots, but certainly worth thinking about his much water they need to get through our summers. And definitely put a thick layer of mulch on top.

      As for Twitter, I would say that to get the most out of it you do have to spend a fair bit of time on it. I think many people log on while they are doing something else on the computer. And it is hard to see the point at the start until you have found a few people you enjoy talking to.

  7. Gilly, what a wonderfully honest post 🙂

    I think you’re being too hard on your self though – you’ve learnt loads and been a fab contributor to boot. None of us who started in January will have been able to do much re belly filling, BUT we’ve managed to produce something and what’s more, we’ve achieved more than before.

    I’m so pleased to see your inspiration shining through in this post 😀

    BTW when I was at Charles Dowding’s place I tried a sprout/kale cross which was utterly delicious. A possibility for your winter growing methinks. And how right you are that winter stuff starts NOW!

    And I’ve been pondering salads vs. winter – we need some recipes for warm salads methinks (when I’ve got my head round what warm and salad actually means!). Plus a lot of the salad ingredients can be used for warming soups too, so it’s win-win.

    • Michelle: how kind you are. Yes, I have learnt a lot and I would have expanded on that but the post was already getting a bit long (two posts worth!). I like the idea of kale/Brussels cross, I will follow that up.

      Yes, when is a salad not a salad? With so many ‘non-salad’ items now entering the salad repertoire plus hot lettuce recipes I would pose the question “is it a useful way of looking at?” but then where would that leave the Challenge!

  8. Nothing comes easy and i have found with gardening it takes a few years to work out what and when certain crops can be grown. I’ve never quite managed to have salad greens growing all year so maybe this will be the year. Mmmm rhubarb with cinnamon and orange that would be delish on porridge for breakfast.

    • Andrea: you are right, it does take time to know your land and climate, and setting up in a new country has made that harder. As I said, I am determined to feed us during the winter, but if that doesn’t always include salad (however we define that) I shan’t mind too much. Rhubarb on porridge? I’m not sure, I like my porridge simple.

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