WATERCRESS CULTIVATION TECHNIQUES FOR THE SELF-SUFFICIENT GARDENER

There is a snap about fresh watercress that is entirely lacking in the shop-withered cress. Its value in salad making needs no stressing; and it is tasty and satisfying enough to stand alone, as a salad on its own. Running water is not essential for its cultivation; it can be grown in a moist trench.

Watercress can be increased by seed, by division of plants, and by cuttings. Pieces with a few thread-like roots attached are frequently included in a purchased bunch; if planted and kept moist, these quickly grow and spread. Suitable pieces can also be taken from plants of watercress found growing wild in clean stretches of water.

Ready for Use.

Gathering starts in June and continues to September, from an April to May sowing; in November and on to May from a sowing in August.

Soil Preparation.

The ground needs to be capable of holding moisture to a reasonable extent, and the best way to ensure this is to take out a trench about 2 ft. wide and 1 ft. deep, in a not too sunny position. Rotted material from the vegetable refuse heap or pit is then trodden firmly into the bottom, to form a rich layer about 6 in. thick. Some of the soil that was taken out is returned, to the depth of about 3 in., and that too is firmed. It should be soaked with water on the day previous to sowing.

When and How to Sow.

Seed is sown during April and May for a summer crop, and in August for a winter-spring crop. It should be sprinkled thinly and evenly over the moist surface, then just covered with sifted soil. Paper placed over the top until the young plants are through will prevent too-rapid loss of moisture in hot, sunny weather. Then the plants can be kept more or less flooded by frequent waterings given from a can fitted with a rose.

Gathering Watercress. Plants are easily tugged up, so to avoid need for constant replanting gather- ing of the shoots has to be done with care; the safest and quickest way is to cut them off, leaving sufficient stems to provide new growth and further pickings.

Increase by Division.

Plants should be given a change of site after a year in the one place, or fresh soil should be placed on top of the rich stuff in the trench bottom after the old soil has been removed. Also the plants may be given a fresh lease of life – pulled to pieces and the divisions, each with a few roots, replanted. This can be done at any time during spring or summer, when growth is active. And cuttings can be taken – 3-in. long shoots cut through squarely just below a joint and planted firmly in the damp soil, 1 ½ in. of the stem to be buried.

Preparing for Table.

Shoots should be washed very thoroughly, preferably in running water, then dried by shaking in a clean cloth. Bare pieces of stem and discoloured leaves should be removed.

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