Growing salad crops

Posted: Monday 15 April 2013
by Adam Pasco

Apart from a nice assortment of colourful leaves and a slight crunch if they're fresh, I'm not convinced that lettuce adds much more to salad than bulk!

There's a lot more to a great salad than lettuce. Apart from a nice assortment of colourful leaves and a slight crunch if they're fresh, I'm not convinced that lettuce adds much more to salad than bulk!

I prefer to grow salad leaves with real flavour like rocket, watercress, and a range of warming mustard leaves. Baby spinach leaves provide more texture and flavour than lettuce too.

Growing young salad leaves doesn't take much space and they're quick, only taking about a month from sowing to your first harvest. And by picking them just before you're about to eat you know they're can't be any fresher or full of goodness.

Many are cut-and-come-again varieties, so by just picking the baby outer leaves as they develop the centre will be left to continue growing. Plants can then be picked over for several weeks before becoming exhausted, and needing to be replaced. All they'll need is regular watering and the addition of an occasional liquid feed to encourage new growth.

Salads also need sowing successionally – little and often – making sure that while one area or pot is being picked over there's another developing nicely to replace it.

There's a nice range of oriental mustards to choose from, each with their own warm, peppery flavour. Many look gorgeous too, like 'Golden Streaked' or 'Red Lion'. It's a misconception that watercress only grows in running water as it grows well in large pots where their compost can be kept permanently moist. It's easy to grow just by sprinkling its fine seeds over the surface of damp compost. Alternatively try land cress, a hardy salad variety similar in flavour to watercress. Or for edible flowers sow a few nasturtiums, a flower closely related to watercress and with a similar warming taste.

Delve into the seed catalogues and you'll find plenty more varieties to whet your appetite including cutting celery, oriental greens like mizuna and mibuna, a range of chicories, and many more.

And why not add a few finely chopped herbs to ring the changes, like coriander, chives, garlic chives, lemon balm, chervil, or even mint.

Lastly, don't forget radish. You'll often find them in seed ranges developed for children as they're so quick and easy to grow, although I do doubt that may kids actually enjoy eating them. And for something completely different check out edible podded rat's-tail radish. Rather than eating the swollen roots you let the plants develop and flower, then tasty pointed seed pods develop. Pick while young or they get a bit tough, but leave a few to ripen completely so that you can save their seed to raise more next year.

So, what's your favourite salad crop?

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Talkback: Growing salad crops
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patricia nicholls 21/04/2013 at 10:05

Well salad leaves are great but it must be remembered that lettuce has a medicinal effect anti depressive, soothing and calming.
granted the assorted leaves have vitamins and minerals but good old lettuce also plays its part.PATRICIA

Dovefromabove 21/04/2013 at 10:15

Another lettuce fan here - but Cos lettuce and Little Gems are my favourites - gorgeous for mopping up a bearnaise or sharp green peppercorn sauce with my steak, fabulous to scoop up home-made mayonnaise, and wonderful braised with peas and spring onions (ok, not really a salad).

Another salad favourite is Mâche or Lamb's lettuce - soft, sweet and tender - again just wonderful with a steak .

And I mustn't forget red chicory - just fabulous - I've never grown it but we buy some most weeks when it's in season - I often mix some with Baby Gem leaves to have with salmon and hollandaise sauce or a sharp vinaigrette  

Obelixx 21/04/2013 at 13:31

We love salads and I always grow a wee tapestry of green Cos and red oak leaf lettuce in spring and summer.  Looks good and tastes good as well as bringing different textures.   I also grow radicchio but this year I'm branching out and growing various salad mixes. 

I use rocket on its own occasionally but more often as a highlight.  Beetroot leaves are good and pea shoots too.   Baby spinach leaves are a daily staple in OH's packed lunch as it' s good for his eyesight and is ogten a base for family salads but I like to add watercress and fresh herbs for variety along with proper lettuce.  

Verdun 21/04/2013 at 13:41

This talk has decided me to plant out my lettuce.....already growing in trays.
Love all summer crops...carrots raw, beans raw rhubarb raw.
The veg garden can look good too, as obelixx said, with red Beetroot alongside fresh green lettuce and rows of feathery carrot tops.
All without pesticides, slug pellets ....just organic food
Gooseberries forming, blackcurramts and blueberries too. Peaches, apples, pears all throwing embryonic fruits. Tomatoes potted on and even lemons,on my tree.
Luverly time of year

Hydroponic Wizard 23/05/2013 at 23:43

Adam, Thanks for the input on the different types of lettece varitys that are avalible. I like to learn from other people instead of trial and error. I'm going to get some of these types of lettece and I will let you know how it grows. I'm growing in pots like you are but I use fabric pots along with a hydroponic water system. I found the system on So far this year with my new system I have had a much easier growing experience. This fabric pot system is making planting easy because it picks the plants off the ground and I hope it makes harvesting easier like harvesting potatos and carrots. O yea this system allows you to grow in whatever type of medium you want to use. What medium do you recomend for lettece. I can use soil, coco, perlite, or hydrotone.

Happy Growing,

Chase the Hydroponic Wizard

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