Growing Salad Greens GuideGrowing Salad Greens Guide
Anyone with a window box, patio urn, or strip of soil by the back door can grow an appealing salad mix. In fact, salad greens are among the most satisfying vegetables to grow, since they usually pop out of the ground less than a week after the seeds are sown and are ready to harvest in four to six weeks.
Focus on the soil
“Prepare your soil with plenty of organic matter,” says Dale Rhoads, a market gardener in Indiana. He recommends working composted chicken manure into the soil in spring because it slowly releases nutrients to the plants throughout the rest of the season. He also urges gardeners to weed often, because greens perform better if they don’t have to compete for nutrients.
Start seeds early
Get a head start on early greens such as spring lettuce by starting them in flats a growing them under lights until they are ready to transplant into the garden, says Organic Gardening‘s test garden manager, Pam Ruch.
Direct-seed greens in rows or broadcast a random smattering of seeds over the soil in early spring. Cover the seeds with a very light layer of soil and water them gently.
The trick to continuous salad-green production is succession planting–sowing a new crop every two or three weeks.
The enthusiasm for “baby” vegetables tempts many growers to harvest their greens before they reach their flavor potential. Flavors develop in salad greens as they grow.
Grow a piquant blend of greens with these plants
A salad garden is simple and satisfying to grow, whether you have a large area or just a few containers. I like to grow both mixed baby lettuces and full heads of lettuce. All lettuce grows best in cool weather, from spring through early summer, and in early fall in most places. Here’s how to grow your own gourmet-quality greens.
5 steps to baby lettuce
The quick way to grow tender baby leaves of four or five different types of lettuces is to use a mesclun mixture. (Mesclun is a term used to describe a seasonal mixture of greens that is sown, grown, and cut together.) I like to use a mesclun that is made up of different lettuces.
1. Start by preparing a 2- to 3-square-foot area. Use a garden fork to turn the soil and break up any clumps, so the soil has an even, fine texture. Or, fill a container, such as a half-barrel or 15- to the 18-inch-wide planter, with good-quality potting soil. Next, moisten the soil.
2. Pour the mesclun seeds into your palm, close your hand, and carefully shake out the seeds over the bed. Try to leave about a half-inch between the seeds. (Practice sowing over paper towels to get the knack of even spacing.) Sift fine soil or potting mix lightly over the seeds, covering them with a layer about a quarter inch deep. Then sprinkle the newly sown bed with water, wetting the soil thoroughly but gently.
3. Keep the seedbed evenly moist until germination occurs, in about one to two weeks (seedlings may come up at different rates).
4. When your baby lettuces are 4 to 5 inches tall (after 35 to 45 days), you can begin to enjoy them in salads. Be sure not to let the plants get too large. Using sharp scissors, shear off leaves at 1 to 2 inches above the soil level. Cut only as much as you need. Gently rinse and dry the greens, and make a salad as soon as possible; baby leaves do not keep long in the refrigerator.
5. After you harvest, water the bed well, and feed lightly with liquid fish fertilizer. The cut lettuce crowns will regrow for another harvest or two.
Seed expert Renee Shepherd owns Renee’s Garden, whose packets of seeds are sold in garden centers nationwide.