Salads are “must-grow” vegetables, and taste so much better when picked fresh rather than bought. They are among the easiest of vegetables to grow, require little space, and mature in a few weeks.
Sowing in pots
Grow salad leaves in containers, and you can just step outside and cut them when you need them. Cut-and-come-again leaf crops make the most of limited space and give a ready supply.
When to start: Spring and throughout summer.
At their best: Summer into autumn.
Time to complete: 30 minutes.
You will need: Mixed salad leaf seed, containers, soil, scissors.
Choose a variety
For an attractive and colorful display, and an interesting bowl of salad, look for seed mixes containing a variety of different colors and textures. Lettuce mixes are a good choice early in the season because they germinate well and grow abundantly in cooler conditions.
The cooler nighttime temperatures in spring, and lengthening days, can make baby Oriental leaf mixtures flower and go to seed all too quickly; sow these after midsummer. Ensure your containers have drainage holes at the bottom, and cover them with broken pot pieces. Then fill with compost and firm down.
Sow on soil surface
Sow thinly across the surface, cover lightly with soil and water well. Cut-and-come-again crops can be sown thickly, but thin the seedlings to a spacing of about 2 in (5 cm) when they are large enough to handle.
Harvest the leaves
When the leaves reach about 6 in (15 cm) high, cut them with a pair of scissors. Keep them fresh until needed in a moistened, sealed plastic bag. The plants will regrow several times before they are exhausted and need replacing.
Growing in beds
Beds provide more space than pots, so use them for larger, traditional, headed lettuces, although cut-and-come-again crops will flourish here too.
Sow in drills
Both types of lettuce should be sown in shallow drills. The only difference is that headed lettuce should be sown much more thinly. Once seeds have germinated, thin them out to 6–12 in (15–30 cm) apart, depending on their final size.
Protect your plants from slugs using mini cloches made from clear plastic bottles. You may also need to net them to keep birds from eating your crops. Water them regularly during summer. They are prone to bolting in hot weather, so plant them close to taller crops, such as beans, that will provide shade.
Arugula has a strong, piquant taste that gives a kick to milder lettuce-based salads. Lamb’s lettuce (corn salad) is a winter crop with a nuttier flavor.
Planting and aftercare
Arugula is best sown in spring and early autumn, when the cooler temperatures make it less likely to bolt. Sow thinly and protect the plants from flea beetles, which nibble the leaves, by covering them with a fine mesh or garden fleece.
Lamb’s lettuce can be sown at any time in spring and summer. It is a useful crop to sow late in the season to provide a tasty winter substitute for lettuce. For the best quality leaves, grow lamb’s lettuce under cloches, or in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Green onions fit in almost anywhere, and will germinate quickly and mature between other crops. These shallowrooted plants will even grow and produce a crop in a seed tray or container.
Growing and harvesting
Green onions are an ideal crop for pots and containers. Sprinkle a small amount of seed on the surface of the soil once every two weeks throughout spring and summer, to ensure a constant supply. Green onions sown in late summer can be left in the soil during winter, to harvest the following spring.
With such a wide variety of salads on offer, you can grow leaves for your salad bowl all year round, if you can provide some frost protection in winter. From mild, buttery lettuce to spicy mizuna, oriental mustard and arugula, and bitter chicory and endive, salads will never be boring again. You can even snip in a few chives for a hint of onion. Grow a range with different tastes and colors, and provide shelter from hot sun for the best leaves.