Photo - Gary K Smith/Gettyimages.com
Every night of the week a different salad is served up on the Ross family dinner table as we explore the range of textures and flavours in grow-your-own greens.
Salad leaves are so easy and quick to grow you’d be mad not to discard store-bought bag fulls and grow your own!
Planting and Caring
Salad greens are quick-growing, shallow-rooting leafy greens. Grow them in full sun in spring anywhere you can fit them in: a pot, planter box, polystyrene box, window box, patch of garden. Planting seedlings is quickest, and sowing seeds directly onto the soil is cheapest. Digger’s ‘Mesclun Mix’, for instance, is just $3.30 for 500 seeds.
Sow a quarter of the seed packet each month for an ongoing supply. Label the patch, but don’t worry about correct spacing. Gently cover with a light sprinkling of seed-raising mix. In cool areas germination can be hurried along with a sheet of glass or clear plastic placed 10cm above the seed bed to create glasshouse conditions. Water every third day with a fine spray.
As they grow, thin seedlings out and eat them in a mixed micro-green salad. Speed production with regular feeds of seaweed solution or dilute worm wee.
Picking mixed leaves for dinner. Photo - Scott Hawkins
Harvesting strategies differ depending on the variety. The outside leaves of hearting lettuce, such as cos and iceberg, can be cut as needed. Alternatively, cut the whole heart, leaving a few of the outer leaves. A new heart will regrow on the old root system in four weeks time. Alternatively, cut-and-come-again leaves, such as rocket and mizuna, can be slashed with scissors and will regrow immediately. For the strong-tasting mustards, use the young fresh leaves, rather than the strong, older, outer leaves. After picking, wash well, and dry gently in a salad spinner, or a tea towel whizzed around outside.
Green leafy fillers
These leaves are the backbone of my salads: feather-leafed mizuna and ‘Oakleaf’; and crunchy ‘Cos’ (also known as ‘Romaine’) which is perfect with bacon bits, avocado and a creamy dressing.
Peppery salad greens
These include the larger-leaf ‘salad’ and finer-leaf ‘wild’ rocket (or rocquette), which complement Italian dishes topped with shaved parmesan or pepper pecorino.
This family includes baby beetroot leaves, witlof, red radicchio, and mustard leaves (both the fine and broad-leaf varieties). They give a real kick to a salad served with roast beef. Wilted warm radicchio with a balsamic rosemary dressing is a winter favourite at our place. Warning: mustard leaves, with a flavour like horseradish, are not for the faint-hearted!
Soft buttery types
Velvet-textured leaves, such as ‘Freckles’, ‘Butter’ and ‘Mignonette’, are delicious with chicken and in a BLT. Add tang with the lemony-zing of sorrel leaves, which also adds depth to spinach pies, soup, quiches, spanakopita and a sorrel version of pesto.
- Protect salad seedlings from snails and slugs with coffee grounds spread around plants.
- As summer temperatures climb, plant salad greens in the shade of other vegetables such as tomatoes, beans and peas.
Where to buy