Organic Quail & Watercress Part 2 - Cultivation

In the first part of this article, if you have not read it can be found here,  I looked in detail at the nutritional and medicinal value of this quail, poultry and human superfood and why it is such a great choice for a fodder crop. In this article I share how easy it is to grow.



 

Watercress Cultivation


Organic quail - watercress as a forage and medicinal

Contrary to its common name nasturtium officianale does not need to be grown in water, moist soil is fine. However,  it does give the watercress a stronger more peppery taste but both the quail and ourselves relish this. Our watercress bed is just a damp area of greenhouse adjoining the quail safe-breeding area and is watered with rain water harvested directly from the roof, as are all our greenhouses.  Living in a longère/longhouse has great advantages! If you do not provide enough water, the plant will do what all plants do in such conditions, cut its losses and put all its energy into saving itself by producing flowers and thus seeds. The flowers themselves are edible and nutritious but lack of water will make the stems and some of the lower leaves woody and less palatable.

Two for One Deal

As you can see above, I grow watercress with rocket/arugula as a companion plant, which gives me an extra crop from the same area. I just broadcast the rocket seeds all over the prepared soil before I plant in my rooted stems of watercress.


Watercress as a forage and medicinal for organic quail
Watercress makes wonderful salads and delicious soup too!

grow watercress as a forage and medicinal for quail


My first watercress grew quite by accident, I was given a tray of cut stems for my hens by my local organic shop. Having left them tied in bunches just as they were, pinned down in the garden, I noticed that even after my poultry had denuded the leaves, white water roots were emerging from the stems. These I planted in damp soil. When I obtained some more I just cut off the leaves for the hens, started the remaining stems in a bowl of water and then added them to the bed. I have been growing it ever since. Even though, as recently happened, witness the 'burnt' stems and leaves below, our watercress was severely damaged by frost it still manages to survive and recovered quite quickly.

Watercress as a forage and medicinal for quail


Growing watercress from seed is pretty simple, although as already discussed it may be easier just to go out to a Farmers' Market, buy a bunch of long stemmed organic watercress, eat most of it and then use the lower woodier part of the stems as your starter. I've even grown baby water cress on by just tipping it out in the greenhouse and then covering the ends of the stems lightly with damp soil. 


Seed should be thinly broadcast on wet humus rich soil, either in open ground or in a container. The reason for the humus is to retain the water and keep the soil perpetually damp and also because watercress as a perennial will keep producing without much maintenance as long as you have given it a good food supply at the start.  The soil should be kept moist at all times, as the seed is just sown on the surface rather than covered with soil. To avoid 'damping off', this is where the stems of the young plants just post germination, become waterlogged and rotten, sow them in good light and when the ambient temperature is above 50°F or 10°C. However, watercress seed germinates best at low temperatures so try not to exceed 60°F or 15°C until after germination has taken place. If growing in containers or inside then it is wise to cover with a transparent lid to avoid too much evaporation before germination. Alternatively containers can be partially dug into the ground and then lifted once the young plants are established. Plants grown indoors can be sown in a double container with the inner perforated to take in water from the outer.

After your plants are well rooted they will continue to spread via vegetative reproduction, with the procumbent stems re-rooting and forming new shoots. This makes a dense mat of foliage which will aid in keeping the roots cool and damp. As ambient temperatures rise, the vertical stems will produce flowers,  which will give you a further means to increase your potential harvest, as watercress self-seeds freely.


Harvesting

Watercress is a matter of taste as it changes with age and seasonal temperatures, the quail, chickens and ourselves prefer the older crisper plants and unlike many also eat the flowering stems. As long as you keep the soil damp in hot weather the taste and texture will remain palatable.  In the Winter it makes a great addition to the salad bowl although as you have seen above it may be cut back if you suffer from long periods of frost. The best way to harvest watercress is on a 'cut and come again' basis.

Hope you enjoyed both these articles and if you did please feel free to share them and to add comments and suggestions below, where you will also find other articles related to producing forage crops for your quail and other poultry.

In the meantime good luck with growing some nutritious and apart from the initially outlay, free and valuable organic forage for your quail and other poultry,

Sue
© 2018 Sue Cross


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