Grow your own winter salad The best winter salad leaves

Choose a selection of your favourites from these 12 lettuces and mustards for delicious home-grown salad all through winter. 

 

Lettuce butterhead

Butterhead lettuce

Taste Good buttery lettuce flavour

Maximum yield per plant 330g

Cropping period Mid-March to May

This was the most successful of the three types of lettuce we grew, and was worth waiting all winter for. It started to heart up in March, producing family-sized heads, with a good butterhead flavour by April and May. You could cut the immature heads before that. This was the lettuce least prone to frost and slug damage. 'Valdor', which we grew, is an old but good variety that is widely available.

 

Chicory

Chicory

Taste Bitter

Maximum yield per plant 185g

Cropping period Mid-March to May

This got off to a very slow start and was much smaller than others at planting time. Despite this, it survived the winter but didn't produce sizeable heads until April. It was bitter, so is best used sparingly. This type of chicory can be used as a green leaf when young. There are several varieties of this particular chicory often known as 'Witloof'; we grew 'Apollo'.

 

Chinese cabbage

Chinese Cabbage

Taste Peppery, crunchy midribs

Maximum yield per plant 120g

Cropping period Mid February

Another rather brief salad, but still a pleasant addition to winter meals. The younger leaves can be used raw in salads, while older leaves can be lightly cooked as greens or in stir-fries. Our plants produced loose hearts by February, but had started to bolt by March. There are several varieties with either elongated or squat heads; we grew the squat 'Richi'.

 

Claytonia

Claytonia

Taste Little flavour, but juicy

Maximum yield per plant 80g

Cropping period January to the end of February

Sometimes called miner's lettuce (after Californian gold-miners), this looks superficially like chickweed, with lots of very small leaves on long stalks. It makes a good filler to bulk up stronger-flavoured salad ingredients and has a juicy texture. By March it had started to produce small white flowers and, if left, would self-seed. Claytonia is widely available.

 

Corn salad

Corn salad

Taste Little flavour

Maximum yield per plant 20g

Cropping period January to March

A good winter lettuce substitute for bulking up salads. The plants make rosettes of glossy, paddle-shaped leaves. Sow or plant densely, as the individual plants are small and best picked young, with around 6-8 leaves. By April, our corn salad – also called lamb's lettuce – had started to deteriorate, but was untroubled by slugs and snails throughout the trial. We grew 'Cavallo'.

 

Lettuce Coz

Cos lettuce

Taste Sweet

Maximum yield per plant 240g

Cropping period Mid-March to the end of April

Our small cos lettuce 'Winter Density' struggled through the winter, suffering from slugs and rots. Some aphids even used them as over-winter accommodation. Although the quality in our trial wasn't great, the heads eventually reached a decent size and were sweet tasting. We think planting them outside a month earlier – in September – would be better. 'Winter Density' is widely available.

 

Endive

Endive

Taste Medium bitterness

Maximum yield per plant 250g

Cropping period Mid-March to May

Unlike chicory, which produces tight hearts like a cos lettuce, endives are more like loose-leaf lettuce. The pale plants didn't do much until March, when they started to produce a loose head of frilly leaves. By May they were still looking good with no sign of bolting. The leaves were less bitter than chicory, but best mixed with other ingredients. We grew 'Kentucky'.

 

Mibuna

Mibuna

Taste Medium mustard

Maximum yield per plant 135g

Cropping period January to March

This was another good early winter salad, similar to mizuna (below). It produced dense rosettes of strap-like leaves on long stalks. It was slower growing than mizuna, but still bulked up quickly to produce a useable head. It started to bolt in April, but the small leaves were still usable, and the little flowers tasted decent too. There are no named varieties.

 

Mizuna

Mizuna

Taste Medium mustard

Maximum yield per plant 150g

Cropping period Mid-December to the end of January

One of the most successful early winter salads, mizuna was one of the quickest to produce decent-sized heads. It's an attractive rosette plant with lots of thin serrated leaves, but it can suffer from pests when grown in the summer. It started to bolt (produce flowers) in February, though the smaller leaves could still be picked. Unnamed varieties are widely available.

 

Mustard

Mustard

Taste Pleasantly hot

Maximum yield per plant 200g

Cropping period Mid-December to mid-March

The star of the winter salad bowl, this new variety looked interesting in the plot and on the plate. It produced large plants that didn't run to flower until May, though leaves could still be picked after this. It was untroubled by pests such as flea beetle, which can spoil it in the summer. Some mustard varieties can be large-leafed and coarse – we grew 'Red Frills', which is the most refined.

 

Pak choi

Pak choi

Taste Peppery, juicy midribs

Maximum yield per plant 90g

Cropping period January

Pak choi is a dual-purpose vegetable – use the young plants as baby leaves, slightly larger in salads, or when fully-grown in stir-fries. The characteristic white leaf stalks and midribs are succulent, while the leaves themselves have a peppery taste. Ours did not heart up well, and started to bolt from January, though the stems were still good to eat. We grew 'China Choi'.

 

Radicchio

Radicchio

Taste Very bitter

Maximum yield per plant 210g

Cropping period March to the end of April

Red-leafed varieties of chicory make colourful additions to the garden. The colour intensifies with cold conditions, too. They add colour and bite to salads, with a real bitter flavour. Though it could be cut as baby leaf earlier, it didn't produce decent heads until April, and started to bolt shortly afterwards, in May. 'Palla Rossa', which we grew, is widely available.

 

NB Yields are average weights taken at the last harvest during the optimum cropping period.

For more information on growing vegetables, including salad crops, see our book Growing Your Own Vegetables Made Easy.

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