Jenny Mollison: It is rocket science

Rocket plants
Rocket plants
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Seeds are being sown and potatoes are being planted, but we are still a long way from eating anything substantial started off this season.

Last year’s kale plants were battered by winter storms and I’ll soon pull them up. Years ago this time of year was called The Hungry Gap for good reason.

Growing some quick-maturing salad stuff brings forward that moment when you can walk into the kitchen with something home-grown to eat. Garden centres will try to persuade you to buy a few pricey lettuce seedlings but I walk straight past them to the racks of seeds. A couple of pounds will buy you packets of all kinds of salad vegetable seeds from frilly lettuces to spicy red mustard with some mixed packets for those who aren’t sure what to try. None of them is difficult to grow. A pinch of seeds scattered in a shallow drill is all that’s needed at any one time. Open packets of seeds, carefully rolled down and kept dry, will last for later plantings all summer and maybe next. With a bit of luck and some planning, it’s possible to have fresh salad every day from spring to the first autumn frosts and beyond. They don’t need a dedicated part of the allotment, being happy to grow in spaces in between those vegetables that take longer to mature.

Radishes grow very quickly but are not to everyone’s taste although I like the way they add a bit of colour to a meal. Rocket is one of my favourites in a salad and, true to its name, grows fast. The more you cut, the more it grows until it eventually flowers and runs to seed. My last planting of last year, protected by a cloche, has flourished all winter.

Two kilos of rocket seeds were sent out to the International Space Station where British astronaut Tim Peake took charge of them as part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Rocket Science Project. After six months in space, they were returned to Earth on the Soyuz spacecraft at the beginning of March. Now school children will be growing them alongside rocket seeds that have not been in space to see if microgravity has had any effect on them. It sounds like a fun way to involve children in growing from seed and introducing them to some scientific methodology. More than 550 Scottish schools are participating. I’m looking forward to reading the results.