If you’re trying
to live less wastefully there are surely few things sadder than
finding half a bag of salad leaves well past their best at the bottom
of the fridge. Growing your own salad within easy reach of your
kitchen table means that you’ll never again have to face picking
through the slimy remnants of a bag’s worth of good intentions in
the hope of salvaging a few edible leaves. Instead you can harvest as
many or as few as you need, when you need them.
This is easily
achievable. Salad leaves have the benefit of being one of the most
productive and worthwhile crops for growing in small spaces. They
need just three to five hours of sun a day and will grow in almost
any pot or window box as long as it’s four or more inches (10cm) deep.
They also grow quickly. Most are ready to eat just six to eight weeks
Growing your own
salad means that you can enjoy a huge variety of super-fresh leaves,
many of which you’ll never see in a supermarket salad section. You
could easily grow over 20 different salad leaves in a small
container garden. If you buy a few carefully selected packs of mixed
salad seeds, and grow them together, you can experiment with picking
new combinations. Every salad you eat will have a slightly different
flavour. And they’ll all be as fresh as it’s possible to be.
Even if you only
have space for a few containers you can be self-sufficient in salads
for at least eight months of the year with a bit of planning and
regular sowing. If you can find space for several salad boxes you can
find yourself giving it away.
to help you get a regular supply:
• Use good quality
peat-free compost like New Horizon. You can reuse the same compost
to grow a second (and third and fourth!) crop, but you need to add
fertiliser. For salads, I recommend adding a handful of chicken
manure pellets – it’s high in nitrogen, which is needed for
green, leafy growth. If you have a wormery, a couple of generous
handfuls of worm compost makes a great alternative.
• Sow a mix of salad
seeds in a seed tray once a fortnight. This will give you a constant
supply of seedlings you can move into your boxes when the plants go
to seed or get tough and bitter (which they’re prone to,
particularly in summer). You can always eat these as baby leaves if
you don’t need them.
• Try to keep a few
boxes at different stages of growth – so if you have four, try to
have one with small seedlings, one nearly ready to pick and two in
full production. By the time the oldest plants get tired and need
replanting, the other ones will hopefully be ready to eat.
• Pick the outer
leaves (rather than the whole plant) to get several harvests from
• Grow a box of
perennial salads – such as sorrel and land cress – that will produce
leaves throughout the year.
When deciding which
salads to grow, I look for ones that will provide a variety of
different tastes, textures and leaf shapes. I also select plants that
will look colourful and attractive while they are growing. Here are
some of my favourites.
leaves such as mizuna, mustard “Red Giant”, mustard “Red
Frills”, texel greens and tatsoi
These have masses of hot, spicy taste. They are easy to grow all year round in the UK,
but best sown in late February/March for an early summer crop, or
in August/September for a supply of leaves throughout the autumn
and winter – and on into spring. Many seed companies sell mixes of
mustards and other oriental salads – so you can try different
types at a fraction of the cost.
A brilliant container crop. You can grow it all year round but it
bolts less if sown in late August for a crop throughout winter and
into spring. It’s a good one to sow, now, too – just be prepared
for it to bolt as it gets warmer. At least you can eat the flowers!
A perennial, so once you have established a few plants it will give
you leaves all year round. Almost impossible to buy in shops, it has
a strong, vibrant, lemony flavour, which is superb in salads in
I grow this not so much for the flavour – which is nice but
nothing special – but for its bright red leaves that look great
both in the salad bowl and whilst it’s growing.
This will grow big if allowed to, but planted close and picked small
it is a tasty and colourful addition to salads.
Succulent and crunchy, with pretty white flowers that emerge from
the centre of the leaves in spring. Sow in August/September.
Herbs, shoots and
edible flowers are more invaluable salad ingredients – and I’ll
write more about them in future articles.
Next time we’ll
look at tomatoes, the jewel in the container garden.