Members' experiments

What is the best time to sow mustard seeds?

Each year we organise several citizen science experiments that our members can participate in to help inform the way we grow organically today. This experiment is 2015 - What is the best time to sow mustard seeds?

There are many types of mustard leaf used in Asian cooking, some of which we collected from Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Bangladeshi growers on allotments and gardens in the Sowing New Seeds project.

One challenge of growing these crops is that sowings earlier in the year often result in rapid flowering, so that the plant stops producing leaves.

We asked members to try growing two types of leafy mustard:

Indian mustard is often sold in bunches outside grocers shop under the name Saag (which just means leaves). The leaves are blue green and have a rough texture. It is best cooked in curries where its peppery taste mixes well with the spices.

Vietnamese mustard leaves are characterised by a white stalk and serrated edges. They have a slightly sweet but hot peppery taste and can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in a stir fry.

We sowed mustard in April, June and August and measured the amount of leaves produced in the two crops, with the aim of finding the best time for sowing.

This trial proved difficult for a number of reasons. Pigeons and slugs were problems for many people, and either destroyed or greatly reduced the harvest. Also many members were not keen on the taste of the crops.

We did learn a number of things from the trial. The Vietnamese mustard flowered much more rapidly than the Indian mustard when sown in April, but was more productive than the Indian mustard when sown later in June.

From our own experience, we would recommend that with the increase in numbers of slugs and pigeons over mild winters, constructing a simple shelter out of fine mesh netting and 1 inch MDPE piping will keep pigeons off, but also drastically reduce attack by slugs if it is secured down well at the sides.

Vietnamese mustard is firm favourite, as it has a hot but slightly sweet flavour. We have found that if sown in August, it will remain productive certainly into November, and often right throughout the winter.

Indian mustard is even more cold resistant and the best way to cook it is as a substitute for spinach in a curry. When cooked, it will taste like spinach with a peppery kick to it.

To download a summary of this experiment please click here.