How to Grow a Salad Garden
If you're not growing your own salad greens, you're missing out on a super-fresh meal. Here's how to get started.
Bagged salads are reported to be among the most popular grocery items, with the average American eating over 22 pounds of greens per year. They’re convenient, nutritious and sometimes they even go on sale. The rest of the time, you’re forking over some real dough for the privilege of having ready-to-eat leaves. With that in mind, you might want to consider growing your own salad garden. It’s easy. And, you can even do it in containers!
What is a salad garden?
If you’ve never heard of a salad garden before, it’s produce that typically goes into a salad, such as:
Some people expand the definition to include onions, peppers and tomatoes, but those take up more space. So for the purpose of this article, we’ll stick with the leafy greens.
Picking the perfect spot.
The first order of business is to find a place to grow your salad garden. You can do this in a raised bed, which is easier to keep weed-free and can be filled with the perfect soil mix. There are various recipes for optimal soil, but you can do just fine by using equal parts topsoil, compost and soilless potting mix. If growing in a container rather than a raised bed, skip the topsoil and just use compost and soilless potting mix. Make sure your plants get full sun exposure and ample water.
Time to plant!
While a salad garden can be filled with actual plants from the nursery, you’ll save money by using seeds. This will also give you the opportunity to grow a larger variety of plants. For instance, some seed mixes include 4 or 5 different types of leaf lettuces, each with unique color, leaf shape and taste. Leaf lettuce is easy to raise from seed. Some people sow multiple crops so the harvest is spread out.
Editor’s Tip: When planning your salad garden, keep in mind one of the most serious dangers to new shoots and buds: hungry critters. Deter them with fences, scents or chicken wire.
Pay attention to timing.
Lettuce, spinach and kale all like cooler spring and fall temperatures, while most herbs like warmer summer temperatures (one exception: cilantro). One strategy is to seed your cool-season salad plants in early spring, then after harvest, replace them with summer herbs (basil, parsley) and vegetables (tomatoes, peppers), purchased as plants. You can keep kale going all summer, but it will slow down.
Harvest salad garden plants regularly, snipping a few leaves from each plant but leaving enough to keep producing. Regular harvesting will keep plants from flowering and going to seed too soon.
Bonus garden benefits.
The great thing about growing your own salad garden is that in addition to saving money, you can also reduce your exposure to pesticides, herbicides and disease-causing pathogens that sometimes tag along with fresh produce. Not only will you be eating healthier, you’ll be resting more comfortably, too!