Sweet Pea Salads – lettuce taste test

Nina tucks into Doug's homegrown lettuce

How are you doing? Hope you’re having a good summer. This week my other half Doug and I did something a bit different. We held a lettuce tasting session with my neighbour Nina and her daughter Ellie (as you do!). DJ’s gardening ambitions have grown exponentially since winning Billericay in Bloom for his vegetable patch in 2010 and now he has got into growing salad lettuce in a big way. He is planning to start up a (very, very) small business called Sweet Pea Salads to grow the salad himself and supply it to a small number of local outlets. The salad bags will be grown along organic lines, although not certified at present, and feature a variety of lettuce leaves and even occasionallly edible flowers.

Nina, yours truly and Ellie at our tasting session

At the moment he is just growing the leaves in our back garden and trialling bags of them with friends. But his aim in the short-term is to find some land to rent to enable him to run a small lettuce-growing trial. Ideally we’d like to find somewhere in the Essex countryside both to live and grow the salad but, the property market being what it is at the moment, we have yet to sell our place and make that dream reality. So if you know of anywhere that’s available to rent in a 5 mile radius of the Billericay area – say about 1/4 acre at the moment – let us know!


Bergamot lettuce

In the meantime, Nina and her family have been busy sampling Doug’s produce each week and have become fans. Even the kids like to eat it, which is amazing!  Last week Ellie even complained to her mum that her school lunchbox was boring because it didn’t include Doug’s salad! This week at our tasting session the four of us tried out a variety of leaves which Doug grows, including red-veined sorrel, bergamot, mottistone lettuce, rosemore lettuce, bull’s blood, which is a beetroot leaf, yellow chard, orche and even a variety of basils, including lime and cinnamon.

Red-veined sorrel

It’s amazing how we can tolerate strong flavours in our salads when they’re actually in a mixture of salad leaves, because individually we found some of the leaves quite tart! The sorrels didn’t go down well with Ellie, despite the broad palate she has for a seven-year-old. But the mottistone, rosemore and bridgemere leaves were popular all round. Nina was particularly taken with the lime basil, being a fan of basils generally (although I don’t know whether she’d include messieurs Fawlty and Brush in that list).

Anyway. It was definitely a useful session and great fun. These are hard times still, and all the scary newspaper stories about the problems in the Eurozone serve to remind us all of that. But it feels good to be getting on with something, even if it is just building a very tiny business like this, so I’m very proud of Doug for trying something new! I’ll let you know how he gets on.

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5 Responses to Sweet Pea Salads – lettuce taste test

  1. ChristineChristine says:

    There’s an awful lot of research required before you go off down the road of obtaining land and selling stuff. That makes you a market garden with a whole lot of regulations including whether you can actually use the land for what you want as well as hygiene rules (you don’t want to be poisoning people – think e.coli from bean sprouts). Oh and you need to do your research – you can’t live off the good will of friends if you want to keep some friends. It’s an old thing of friends and business have to be kept apart. What’s more, with gluts one week and lack another it’s no easy thing you are contemplating. Talking to suppliers of veg boxes and people who stand at farmers’ markets is a very good way of finding out whether it’s a good sideline for you. Been there and thought of that. Didn’t go there though I’m used to self employed.

    • piperterrett says:

      How weird – we were just talking about this this very evening! Thanks very much for your advice and comments. Doug has just been finding out about all this stuff by talking to Trading Standards, Environmental Health, the Soil Association etc. and we were chatting it over. I feel another blog entry coming on…What kind of work do you do as a self-employed individual btw?

  2. Christine says:

    Family had a gardening business. Based on maintaining gardens for private houses, churchyards, schools and village greens with some landscaping thrown in. We looked at the market gardening side of things for but land prices, regulations, competition, finance, physical labour, weather, customers being fickle and unpredictable in their choice of plants ……

    Funny thing – the manager of the local garden centre retired from running his own market garden on the grounds it’s a lot easier to source from other places and let others do the labouring, take the weight of failures or over production or under production. He’s very funny on the subject. You have to have been there to appreciate him. And the owner lets him do a lot of the negotiating on the grounds of his experience.

    • piperterrett says:

      Interesting and thanks again – I guess you know about all the pitfalls then firsthand! We are trying to be realistic in assuming that this is probably only ever going to be a sideline alongside both our day jobs. Doug has been on a number of courses and recently went on a WOOFing week volunteering with salad growers in Scotland who also run a veggie box scheme to find out more. He also went on a course with salad leaf grower Charles Dowding earlier this year and picked his brains http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/ He supplements his income by doing talks and running courses.

      My own view is that you have to be realistic that this is never going to earn you much more than a tiny wage, but life is too short not to have a go with these things and pursue a dream. When I went freelance 4 years ago it was so that I would have the time to write a crime novel and, while I’ve realised that it will probably never make me much money, I don’t regret doing that for a minute. I’ve finished my novel and we are busy getting the paperback out at the moment. I know I would have regretted never trying. The only thing you can do is as much research as you can. If you fall flat on your face, you fall flat on your face. “Don’t give up the day job,” as the wise folks say! 🙂

  3. Ladybug Nina says:

    We had so much fun! X

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