The Cottage Smallholder

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Watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum)

natural streamI always thought that you needed a stream of running water to grow your own watercress. I discovered that my friend Carol knows where wild watercress grows locally. Despite a bit of gentle pressure she refuses to divulge her secret. I’m not surprised, watercress is expensive. But if you follow Carol and discover her watercress beds, be on your metal. Dirty streams makes watercress unfit to eat. If you wouldn’t drink the water, you shouldn’t eat the watercress.

Unless you can use an entire supermarket pack within a day or so it goes floppy and has to be tossed out. Our compost bin has eaten far more watercress than we have over the past few years.

I used to envy Carol. Imagining her picking up her hat and basket. Breezing off to her secret place to pick just what she needed.

Now I grow my own.

Two years ago I discovered that Thompson and Morgan produce Watercress seeds. These are not available in many garden centres. I found them at Sctotsdales in Shelford but I discovered today that you can buy watercress seed on line direct from the Thompson and Morgan site.

Watercress seeds are quick to germinate. When they are strong plantlets, I pot them on. Five to a 12″ pot. These pots sit in old washing up bowls full of water in a shady spot. I change the water every other day or so, tossing the old water onto anything in the kitchen garden that needs a drink.

When harvesting, just trim the tops of the cress so that the stems will regenerate by producing side shoots. In this way the watercress will spread across the surface of the large pot. I think that I probably plant to many plantlets in each pot. I just want to guarantee a plentiful supply. Watercress can also be grown in the border in soggy trenches. I find the pot method works best for me as it is easier to see if they need to be topped up with water. If you are lucky your pots will give you a decent supply of fresh watercress from early summer until well into the autumn.

Watercress is packed with vitamins (A, C and K). It is a good source of iron and calcium and is full of beneficial glucosinates.

Always wash your watercress well. If you cultivate it in pots in your garden you probably are safe but watercress grown in running water can attract the liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica). This is rare. I saw it first on a returned plate in a London restaurant. We saw the fluke recently in a supermarket pack. The fluke is flat, with loads of legs and you can’t miss it as it is about an inch long.

I wonder if Carol would swap her local knowledge for a pot bursting with hand reared watercress. I’d still like to savour the wild cress as I’m sure that it tastes totally different to the cultivated cress and judging from Carol’s smile it’s absolutely delicious.

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  1. Laura

    I am hoping to grow watercress in an area of often waterlogged clay soil. There may be a stream running underground below it or nearby, but I’m not sure. So I don’t know what water it will be taking up, although the same is true for the rest of the veg… Some ponderings:

    – Can water snails (and therefore liver fluke) live in underground streams?

    – There’s two small manmade and polythene lined ponds close to where I was going to try and grow it. Does anyone know how I could check if they have water snails in? Do they stay near the surface or might they be hidden in the depths? How big are they?

    – Will a rather waterlogged clay bed even be wet enough to grow watercress? If not, is there anything else I could put there?

    Thanks, this has all been most helpful!

  2. beth mcdonough

    I collect wild watercress, and think it deliciously spicy, but I never use it for salad as I can’t be sure what might graze upstream, and I do worry about fluke. it is completely safe cooked and makes a mean soup!

  3. Bought watercress plant for a pond I made above large pond that is fed by a pump. The watercress has spread the lengh of the falling stream(12′). It is very strong and tasty but I am very nervous about eating it. The idea of soaking in vinegar is hopeful but will it really work?

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Jemima

    I don’t know whether the watercress would be safe to eat. Why not ask a few locals?

    I grow watercress each summer and it does very well as long as you remember to change the water daily.

  5. I live on the Isle of Skye. Down the road from my house(it’s ojn a track leading from the main road) is a stream which has masses of watercress. There used to be cows grazing round the stream, but not for 2 or 3 years now. The stream comes from underground, there’s been no fertiliser or pesticides used as far as I know ever as the land is unused croft land. What is the chance of there being liver fluke?I am keen to sample the cress, but am a bit wary. Water cress is very expensive to buy and doesn’t last long.

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hello John B

    Yes once the watercress takes up the reins it flourishes. You need to keep on sniping the heads to encourage side shoots. There will be roots on the shoots but the leaves should be bigger than the leaves that you buy/can’t buy in the supermarket.

    I bought a bunch this evening to plant in pots, sitting in a water bath that I change every day. Too busy to grow my own this year. These shoots have loads of roots – perfect for growing on.

    Why not feed your watercress and just water it with rainwater. I bet that this would have a beneficial effect. Also use fresh water everyday – this is hugely important

  7. John B.

    I’ve found some really interesting information about growing water cress on this site. Ilive near Rome and as I can’t find water cress inthe shops in this part of the world I have been trying to grow my own in a bath tub on my terrace roof. I started from seed and found that although it was slow getting started it is now spreading quite rapidly. I fill the tub from a watering can every day and any excess of water runs out through very small holes in the tub and can be caught in another container. However I am not satisfied with the results. The leaves are very small and the stems are full of root shoots. Does someone think that this depends on the variety of cress. It was bought in Italy and goes under the name of crescione delle fontane (but I notice that this is also called nasturtium officinalis)

  8. steve

    I’ve been growing watercress for two years now (this will be the third), the first year i grew it in one of my water-butts,fed from the greenhouse gutter, and it seemed to do okay-ish. Last year i upgraded the system and grew it in a spare 3ft fishtank, it was planted directly into about 8″ of ordinary fishtank gravel, and fed clean running rain water via a 1/2″ hose from a sealed 30 gallon mauser on the shed roof. The water is pumped back up to the mauser from the tank by a 12 volt boat bilge-pump, on a car battery. About every 2 weeks i add Phostrogen plant food to the top mauser (made up as makers inst) and completly change the water every 2 months. Last year it grew like mad, so this year i will be using the same method, its simple, cheap, and you won’t get it much cleaner!

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Steve

      This is a superb method. I grow watercress in pots in old washing up bowls and renew out the water every day. Your idea sounds so much better. Thanks a lot for sharing.

      Now, I’m sure that we have a spare motor somewhere in the barn…

  9. Crystal

    I’ve read through all of the entries here with great interest. I live in American Samoa, where it is supposedly watercress heaven. I fell in love with watercress a couple of years ago when I visited a neighboring island. It is hard to find here, or rather, only a handful of people grow it. Samoan people are not vegetable eaters normally, but a new generation of Samoans are coming up who are trying to live better. Watercress is a mystery here. Everything I’ve learned about watercress is amazing. I am trying to grow watercress in my garden but am clueless as to where to start, and that’s where I found this website, and have learned so much. It rains 75% of the time here, being in the middle of the South Pacific, and when it rains it pours, and it is very humid, so am trying to see if it is ideal weather for watercress. I have a couple of running streams around my house, but there is a gray water problem in my area, so I didn’t think to grow it in the streams, so I am going to start growing them in containers, and I can put it in my garden, and since it rains every other day here, I might not have to change the water myself. But if there is any advice for me, please, I’d appreciate it.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Crystal

      Steve seems to have the answers that you need!

      Like you I’d be wary of grey water. I gave some plants to a friend and she put them in her stream. They grew into giants but sometimes the whiff from the stream smells foul. I wouldn’t eat her watercress – ever!

  10. A very easy way to grow watercress is to get a shallow container or plate, cover the bottom of the container with cotton balls or doubled kitchen paper. wet the cotton balls with water and sprinkle water cress seeds over the cotton balls, then place them in a dark cupboard and cover the top of container with eg.newspaper. as soon as the seeds start to sprout, take it out of the cupboard and i place it on my kitchen window. make sure you always keep the water cress DAMP. to harvest just cut the tops off the water cress and it will regrow. This is how i grow watercress and the seeds germinate in a matter of days.

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