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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Salad Lovers’ Garden Tips

Mar 24, 2011 07:44PM

by Barbara Pleasant

If you really love salad, you owe it to yourself to try growing your own garden-fresh ingredients. Lettuce is fast and easy to grow, with beautiful colors and textures worthy of a flower garden. Most salad staples grow best in cool weather; so don’t wait for summer to get started. Here are eight tips for a successful salad garden season.

Make several small sowings. Lettuce and other salad greens grow quickly and must be picked before they get too old, so try planting about two square feet of space every three weeks, starting in early spring. Take a break during summer’s heat, and then plant more salad greens when the weather cools in late summer. In tropical areas, grow lettuce as a winter crop.

Try Bibbs, butterheads and other beauties. Seed racks offer packets of tempting varieties, and all except iceberg types are easy to grow in a garden. Buttercrunch and other Bibb varieties always do well, as do butterheads and leaf lettuces. Choose a mixture of varieties or buy three packets with different leaf colors and textures.

Mark boundaries with radishes or scallions. Plant fast-sprouting radish seed or green onions from the store to mark the locations of newly sown seeds. The onions will quickly grow new roots and tops; simply pull them as needed in the kitchen.

Mix in some spinach. Boost the nutrient content of salads by including spinach in the salad garden. Spinach grows best in rich, fertile soil.

Add water. All leafy greens crave water, and dry conditions can cause lettuce to become bitter. Keep a watering can near the salad bed and water as often as needed to keep the soil constantly moist, but not muddy.

Eat thinnings. Lettuce seedlings often appear close together, and a good gardener will pull out excess seedlings to give the plants room to grow. After thinning seedlings to two inches apart, start eating the pulled plants as baby greens.

Pick in the morning. Lettuce and other leafy greens are at their best in the morning, after they have had all night to recover from the stresses of the previous day. If it’s not possible to gather greens in the morning, pop a cardboard box over the bed for the day. Protected from hot sun, a salad patch can keep its morning freshness until evening.

Grow more when temperatures cool. Salad crops struggle in hot weather, but often thrive in cooler months. In the north, gardeners can use leftover seeds to start up a second delicious salad season in late summer; in the south, they can get an early start on the long winter growing season as soon as summer temperatures abate.

Barbara Pleasant is the author of numerous gardening books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens. Visit BarbaraPleasant.com.

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