Apart from a few hard frosts so far the temperature hasn’t plummeted too far in my greenhouse. That means that the salads and herbs that are languishing in the protected environment of the glasshouse are still producing new leaves to eat. As winter approaches every sprout and shoot grown inside the greenhouse becomes more and more precious and the greenhouse gardener rues the day when he or she only sowed one crop of fresh leaves instead of a whole range of things.
Somehow the flavour of a handful of leaves picked and eaten there and then far surpasses anything else you can buy. Maybe it’s the spontaneity, the daredevil approach of pick and eat at a time when every green morsel is almost worshipped for its health giving properties and flavour.
When it comes to flavour you can’t beat herbs and though few can be sown and grown until spring now, you can still benefit from the leaves and foliage of some winter stalwarts. Many of the shrubby herbs are evergreen or semi evergreen so a pot or two in the greenhouse can reap a harvest throughout the winter. A few tiny rosemary leaves can transform a rooty stew or a seasonal soup. Sage married with some onion adds a whole new dimension to stuffing, casseroles and pastries. Try it with bread too, it’s scrumptious. Salads take on a whole new meaning in winter. Winter lettuce and oriental leaves can make a tasty sandwich garnish, add a sprig of thyme, a clipping of chives or a little chopped coriander and it brings the whole thing alive. Many herbs such as basil, coriander, and some rockets are annuals so they normally die off for winter. You can cheat with pots from the supermarket and keep them in the greenhouse or on the kitchen windowsill. Other herbs such as chives, mint and lemon balm are herbaceous perennials that die back to ground level but resprout in spring. By bringing a pot or two into the greenhouse you can nurture and earlier crop and enjoy the flavour of fresh grown herbs earlier than the garden plants, or again take advantage of a ready grown pot or two from the supermarket or garden centre and enhance your menus by cheating.
But don’t dismiss the plants that can be sown from seed all year round. Many seeds can be sown to generate a rich harvest of seed sprouts. Now all the rage at posh restaurants around the country, seed sprouts come in all guises from the tiniest onion sprouts, to rich red beetroot and all the usual varieties too. The great thing is they can be grown very easily in large or small scale and they are a brilliant way to get the kids growing too. Don’t use normal surplus seed as it may have been treated with something to prevent fungal diseases or worse. Instead invest in a packet or two of special sprouting seeds for the very best results.