In an era of masterchefs and duelling kitchens it’s hard to believe that 30 years ago a salad was iceberg lettuce, a pale, firm tomato wedge and a splash of bottled French or Italian dressing.
These days there are cookbooks dedicated solely to the art of the salad and the variety of leaves we can grow in our gardens is enticingly large. Join the salad revolution!
Most salad leaves planted during autumn and winter are best in full sun, but nearly anything leafy will also tolerate light shade. Summers green leaves should be planted under light shade. Rich soil is a must, as is a regular supply of moisture. Keep plants hydrated, mulch to cool the roots and limit weed competition, and apply liquid fish emulsion every couple of weeks to keep the plants cranking along.
Either harvest the outer leaves from established plants as required, or cut whole young plants with a knife, leaving the crown to regenerate new foliage. This latter method will allow two or three cuttings from the same patch of plants.
- Hot, windy weather can be a real problem during spring. To keep leaves succulent and fresh, I keep greens well-watered and cover the plants with 50% shadecloth during the hottest part of the day.
- Brassicas are vulnerable to cabbage white butterflies as spring progresses. Spray with Dipel, or cover plants with fine weave netting.
- Keep an eye out for slugs. They love hanging out in salad patches and are most efficiently controlled with non-toxic baits that contain the active ingredient iron EDTA, such as Multiguard.
Experiment with everything from well-known loose-leaf lettuces, rocket, baby spinach, chicory, sorrel, mizuna, mustard, and endive to lesser known shungiku, purple orach, and miner’s lettuce.
Remember that non-salad vegies and even weeds can be harvested for their leaves. Baby beetroot, cavolo nero, bok choy, basil, chick weed, purslane and baby milk thistles can all make vibrant contributions to a mixed salad. And don’t forget iceberg – still the best for a burger!