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Grow your own salad leaf mix
Imagine being able to pick your own fresh salad - fresh, unchlorinated, tasty leaves - within 8 weeks. Without a garden, without masses of space, without great investment.
Salad leaves are one of the simplest things to grow, they are undemanding, expensive to buy and crop for ages - but like many simple things we seem to be put off by how easy it looks, as though there was a catch somewhere.
This is my 4 step process.
1. Find a suitable container/patch of ground.
Your container should be at least 10 cm deep, it should have holes in the base of drainage - things I have used successfully in the past are polystyrene fish boxes, mushroom boxes, crates (line with plastic and make holes through the plastic), compost bags (turn on side, cut the front of the bag completely off and use a skewer to pierce through the compost right through the plastic so there are drainage holes) as well as more conventional decorative pots.
Fill your container with peat free compost and water it well, leaving to drain.
If you have a garden, your ground should be free of weeds and raked so that the soil resembles crumble topping.
2. Choose and sow your seeds.
The fastest and tastiest baby leaves are mibuna, mizuna, rocket, mustards, spinach, and salad bowl type lettuces - these are all plants that are happy for you to pick a few leaves at a time, they will keep growing, giving you a much better harvest than if you were picking the whole plant at once.
Pour a bit of seed into the palm of your hand, each of those seeds is a plant. Each seed will grow into a plant that is eventually 8-10 cm square when fully mature. The most common mistake people make is sowing seeds too generously - because the correct spacing looks really miserly. What then happens is that too many seeds germinate, they get crowded and the plants grow really weakly. It is also a waste of seeds and money.
Instead of scattering the seed, draw lines with your finger 5 cm apart on the surface of the compost/soil. Then carefully place a single seed every 3 cm along these lines. This gives you enough plants to be picking from without them getting crowded.
Carefully cover the seeds with a fine layer of compost/soil.
Keep gently watered.
3. Growing and harvesting.
Salad seeds tend to germinate in 4-10 days. They can be harvested when each plant has 8 leaves (just take 1-2 leaves from each plant at this point, you always want to leave at least 3/4 of the plant to grow on).
Make sure you keep them well watered as salad leaves are mainly water. It is also best to pick at the beginning or end of the day when the leaves are cooler and crisper.
If the lettuce begins to grow a flowering stalk it is finished - the leaves will turn bitter - so remove from your container.
Mibuna, mizuna, rocket and mustard all continue to taste good when in flower, and the flowers themselves are edible too adding a little punch to salads.
4. The main secret to growing salad
Keep sowing every 2-3 weeks - that is it.
Most people get very enthusiastic at the beginning of the season, but then forget to sow any more crops. If you sow a small amount of salad seeds every 2-3 weeks from April - September (September sown crops need some protection in the northern half of the UK) you can have freshly grown salad leaves for most of the year.
When you sow your first crop mark your calendar 2 weeks ahead as a reminder to sow some more.