Growing salad leaves from seed
Sowing and planting
Salad leaves grow well in even poor soils. However, boosting the moisture content by adding plenty of well-rotted organic matter will reduce the risk of crops running to seed in hot, dry summers (which turns the leaves bitter).
Start sowing seeds in March, as soon as the soil is workable, and continue until September (or even longer if you cover plants with a cloche or fleece and choose winter-cropping varieties). Make sowings every two weeks to ensure continuous cropping.
Prepare the seed bed by removing any weeds and stones and raking over the soil to create a fine texture. Next, make shallow drills (straight rows made by pressing a bamboo cane into the soil) about 1cm deep. Water along the drill, taking care not to collapse the sides. Sprinkle a pinch of seeds along the bottom. Cover thinly with soil or compost, and water gently.
You can grow small patches of salad leaves in any gaps in your borders among your flowers and shrubs. They also grow well in pots, boxes, trays and even guttering. Fill your container with multipurpose compost, to 2cm below the rim, and firm down. Scatter the seeds over the surface, cover lightly with compost and water well.
Tending the crop
Harvesting salad leaves
When large enough to handle (about 4cm tall), tease out crowded seedlings with your fingers and either eat straight away or transplant to another site to grow on. Leave 15cm between the remaining seedlings.
With cut-and-come-again varieties, you just pick a few leaves from each plant. Taking little and often will keep the plants cropping for longer. Once plants start to flower the leaves become bitter, so pull them up, chuck on the compost heap, and sow more.