In writing the title I suddenly realised how broad this area has become! The salad crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and cress have been extended by microgreens, sprouting seeds, baby vegetables and flower heads/petals.
Traditional salad leaves such as lettuce enjoy cooler weather and are better sited in shade or in partial shade with morning rather than afternoon sun. When sown as successional sowings it spreads the harvest out and means a reduction in the wastage from a glut, unless you particularly like lettuce soup, have non-gardening friends or could supply a local food bank. Salad leaves such as cut and come again lettuce leaves can be sown outdoors or in pots inside. Recycled plastic pots are an ideal size to sit on a windowsill and harvest on a rotational basis. I prefer crisp hearted lettuce but there are a wide variety of salad leaf mixtures available to suit all tastes.
Realising I hadn’t much by way of salad leaf seeds I sowed some turnips, radishes and beetroot inside and brassicas and roots outside. I made sure the compost was moist before sowing and outside I covered with fleece and an iron trellis to hold it down to protect from frost and pigeons. We were still having frost in this area with the clear night skies.
I cover and protect all seedlings sown outside - we have wood pigeons in the area and they are rather partial to brassicas.
Life has been a bit chaotic over the last few months and I am trying to focus on taking small bite sized time slots in my garden. I have a very loose and flexible plan but know that at any moment that my plans could be interrupted and delayed.
So with what I had, I sowed the lettuce and then ordered a few more seeds. I have tried watercress mustard red frills, red veined sorrel and rocket in the past so I thought I would compare the perennial wild rocket with the salad rocket. The sorrel self seeds in abundance if you let it and is deep rooted so difficult to remove once you have it so it has continued in the garden unasked. This time I have also tried some American or land cress.
Eventually I had the time to plant out Little Gem and Lobjoits Cos into what has become a miscellaneous bed. While I have been trying to follow crop rotation, this bed had a mix of peas, tomatoes and courgettes last year. Although it's miscellaneous now, because it had legumes last year, I will also put some of my brassicas in here when I transplant them. These will grow slowly but will need covering to protect them from cabbage white butterflies.
So a few weeks on and some of the radish in the seedbed didn’t get thinned and so didn’t produce many edible radishes. However, leaving them to flower and seed can also give you a harvest of tasty, slightly peppery pods to use in salads.
Also in the miscellaneous bed I am currently trying swiss chard, beetroot, land cress, salad rocket and lettuces together. The lettuce is taking off and will be harvested before the interplanted beetroot will need more space.
The original sowing of lettuce have been sitting in the seed tray. Last weekend I interplanted down the centre of my bean poles and between my outdoor tomato plants. An experiment in terms of conditions and trying to rescue my badgered damaged potato plot but also they will benefit from the shade over the summer months and therefore be less likely to bolt in any warm weather we might have.
Around the rest of the garden I have borage coming into flower, newly planted out nasturtiums, self seeded wild rocket and marigolds, these are all good for adding a touch of colour and spice to your salads.
There are many different types of leaves that can increase the nutritional value of your salads - try baby leaves of brassicas and mustards, chives, herbs such as chervil, parsley, coriander and dill. To extend the season into the cooler months try winter savory, winter miner’s lettuce, lamb’s lettuce and beets such as spinach and chard and winter varieties of lettuce.