If you get impatient with gardening and like to see some results quickly, try growing some salad leaves. You can have a plate of freshly grown salad leaves in as little as 4 weeks. How great is that?
Planting salad leaves is so easy. They’ll grow in the tiniest of spaces too. A little pot or box by your back door or on the balcony is all you need.
When it comes to quick and easy garden projects, in which you can reap the rewards quickly, growing your own salad leaves is right there at the top.
You can be harvesting leaves for your salads in as little as 4 weeks from when you plant out your seeds and what’s even better is that they will grow in the smallest of spaces. You can grow them in pots, growing bags, window boxes and even in seed trays.
Growing Conditions for Salad Leaves
The good news is that salad leaves can be grown even in the poorest of soils, the main thing they require is moisture. You can improve your soil by digging in some well rotted manure or compost.
The growing season for salad leaves is dependent on how you decide to grow them. Outdoors, the growing season can range from later in the Spring, right through until Autumn. You can prolong this a little by growing earlier or later crops in a greenhouse, polytunnel or on a sunny windowsill indoors.
You can even buy late summer/early autumn varieties of salad seeds which are great for extending your season well into the autumn months too.
Salad leaves usually prefer cooler conditions, so they can be great for areas in the garden that don’t receive as much full sun throughout the day, meaning that you can save those spots for Sun worshippers. For instance, when you grow tomatoes or strawberries.
You can also harvest some beetroot leaves and mix them in with your salads.
Ideally, if you want a steady supply of salad throughout the growing season, it is recommended to sow your seeds every 2 weeks, don’t sow all your salad seeds at once, as you will find that you might have too many to use and they will go to seed and taste bitter, before you get a chance to use them.
How to Sow Salad Leaf Seeds
Salad leaves can be sown directly outside in the ground, or in pots or boxes. The seeds are quite small and if you’re using a mixed variety seed packet, they will all look slightly different depending on their type.
If you choose to grow them in the ground, start by raking over the soil and removing any stones or weeds. Create a few shallow drills in rows to about 1cm deep.
I recommend watering the area before planting the seeds. By watering first, you will moisten the soil for the seeds without risking to wash them all away.
Carefully sprinkle your seeds evenly into the watered drills and cover with a thin layer of moistened soil or compost.
Be sure to label your rows with the variety and date of sowing. This will serve as a reminder of when to begin sowing the next batch of seeds.
After sowing, continue to gently water the area daily using a rose head. You may need to water more or less often, depending on the weather. It’s important to not allow the soil to dry out.
Continue to water and wait for little plants to appear. This shouldn’t take too long with salad leaves. If you feel your plants are a little too crowded when they reach about 4-5cm high, thin them out by removing the weaker looking plants and leaving the stronger ones with some room to continue their growth. You can either use these plants in a salad, or replant them in a different spot.
Harvesting Salad Leaves
Keep watering the plants until they are ready for picking. Lots of varieties will grow again a few times once they have been cut so make sure you check the variety you are planting and be sure to not remove the whole plant when you are harvesting if this is the case.
To harvest salad leaves, simply just trim a few leaves from each plant, by the base, leaving a little growth of about 2.5cm for the leaves to begin growing again.
If your salad plants begin to flower, this is an indication that they have gone to seed and will be bitter to taste. Remove these plants for composting and replace with new seeds.
Salad leaves are best if you eat them on the day of harvesting. However, they can be washed and stored in the fridge and will keep for several days like this.
How to Stop Garden Pests Eating Salad Leaves
Unfortunately, even with all your hard work, snails and slugs will munch their way through your crop in no time at all. They really are a salad growers worst enemy.
If you have a problem with snails or slugs in your garden, there are various methods of control depending on your preference. If you want to steer clear of pellets, there are other methods to deter the little slimy pests. Broken egg shells, copper tape or covering the plants with a fine netting frame. These things will hopefully keep damage to a minimum.
You can try encouraging frogs and birds into your garden as a natural predator.
Keep a close eye out for slugs and snails when the weather is wet, they love venturing out for a rainy day banquet at your expense. Take a little container out with you, under the cover of an umbrella and get collecting. You can always turn it into a rainy day game with young children and see how many you can find. This “game” certainly works well for us when I am struggling to keep Bam Bam amused on a wet day. We “rehome” our unwelcome guests to the nettle patch nearby our house where we go for walks. Hopefully, the snails will be too full and fat on nettles that they won’t find their way back to our garden.
Outside, salad can be grown from late spring to early autumn. You can prolong your growing season if you have a heated greenhouse and can grow them indoors.
You can grow your own salad leaves in a matter of weeks, usually 4-6 weeks from sowing to harvesting. Whole lettuces take a little longer, so if you want a quick reward for your sowing efforts, choose a salad leaf mixture.
You can grow salad in pretty much any type of container you want and is ideal for balconies, window boxes and small spaces.
Try and set a schedule for planting and harvesting. Depending on how much salad you will consume, try planting new seeds every 2 weeks to keep yourself in a steady supply.