Guest post from Jeri Lynn Repp
No, I do not have a green thumb. (Actually, I am the lady who goes to the plant nursery and asks for the plants that are hard to kill.) I began growing my salad garden out of sheer desperation for convenience. You see, the grocery stores here in the small town in which I live did not have things like organic pak choy or kale. To get the variety and quality I desired, I was driving 30 minutes to markets. I decided it would be much easier and cost efficient to just grow more of what I need.
I have been growing tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, bell peppers and a few other vegetables for some years under my father’s instructions. (He is the green thumb of our family). So, to try and grow salad really was not that much of a stretch for me. But can I tell you, nothing has been easier than growing these salads.
I will share with you the plants that I have found to be extremely easy to grow, harvest, and incorporate into weekly menus. Because lets face it ladies, there is no use wasting your time growing vegetables that no one in your family will eat!
WHEN TO PLANT:
Most (not all) salad plants are cool weather crops, so they will not do well planted through the hot summer months. Check the back of the seed packs to make sure you are planting at the correct time of year for your growing zone. Here in Louisiana, I will continue to plant salad though mid April, harvesting through the end of May. Your local agriculture center will have a host of useful information.
This is a useful resource:
Louisiana Planting Guide
Tip: Seeds need to remain moist until they germinate and seedlings form. For this reason I try to plant when I know a couple of days of rain are in the forecast. Otherwise, it’s daily watering for the first week or so. I am extremely happy for nature to relieve me of the watering task. And remember, you can only eat so much salad at one time so there is no need to plant the whole seed pack at once. Plant small amounts of seed over time, so that harvest will be continual and not overwhelming.
EASY TO GROW PLANTS:
Lettuce: Loose leaf lettuces are easier to grow to harvest than head lettuce. Head lettuce (like iceberg) is more prone to bug infestation. My favorite home-grown loose leaf lettuce is Salad Bowl. I also like to choose a Mesclun Mix or Gourmet Salad Mix for lots of variety in one pack. This will give you red and green leaves for a salad as appealing to the eye as it is to the taste. Two seed packs can last more than one year in a small garden. Harvest lettuce early; 45 days. Overgrown lettuce will get bitter.
- Spinach: Every variety of spinach I have tried grows well. Spinach plants can be harvested for months. Instead of harvesting the entire plant, harvest only a few of the outer leaves. The inner leaves will continue to grow and multiply. Harvest in 44 days.
- Chard: Swiss Chard and Bright Lights can be harvested for months as well. Harvest the large outer leaves, just like spinach, leave the inner small leaves to continue growth. Bright Lights adds so much color to a salad. Harvest in 60 days.
- Kale: Dwarfed Blue Curled tastes great and makes an interesting garnish. Like spinach and chard, harvest outer leaves and the inner leaves will replenish. Harvest in 60 days.
- Pak Choy: This is an Asian green, great for eating raw in salad, or stir fry. I began planting this because of its cancer fighting antioxidants. Harvest in 40 days.
- Radishes: Cooks Gourmet Blend is my favorite mix. Again, I like variety in one packet, because one packet goes a long way. Harvest in 30 days.
WHERE TO PLANT:
I prefer to garden in raised beds. My attempts at gardening in traditional rows turned into a weeded mess. A 3ft x 3ft bed or a 4ft x 4ft raised bed will be a good starting place. You are not limited though. You can garden in pots, old jars, wooden crates. I have even had things growing out of an old tire before. Your options are limited only by your imagination. Just make sure your garden gets at least 8 hours of sun each day.
The plants I listed are very forgiving. You will need to water them periodically in extended dry weather or if you choose to plant in containers. I added some compost to my bed as fertilizer just before planting in September and I have not fertilized since. If you do not compost 13-13-13 is a general fertilizer that will work. My garden has had no problem with insect infestation this growing season. A quick and easy prevention is one teaspoon of original Dawn dish-washing liquid (ONLY original Dawn, no others will do). Add to a squirt bottle filled with water. Spray on your growing plants periodically. Bugs tend to not like the smell of clean.
HARVESTING and CLEANING:
I have found that harvesting salad in the early morning to be very beneficial. The salad seems fresher before the heat of the day sets in to drain the moisture from the plant. I harvest to a large bowl and then submerge my harvest in cool water for at least 5 minutes. This insures that any critters hiding under a leaf will wash away easily.
If I don’t have the time to wash the salad right then, I will just add ice to the water. It can be left like this for hours. Several times I have left salad in the iced water until it is time to prepare lunch.
Rinse the salad, chop, and then place into a strainer to drip. I generally leave the salad here 10 minutes or more. I do not like soggy salad, and this is the easiest way to eliminate the water.
I generally harvest enough salad to fill a store bought salad container. I reuse one in which I had previously purchased salad. The salad will stay good about a week, though it usually does not last that long at our house. Like I said, we usually harvest 2 times per week.
COST vs SAVINGS:
Last fall I spent about $10.00 – $15.00 purchasing seeds. Salad usually costs about $5.00 per container. For 4 months I have been harvesting salad approximately 2 times per week. So, I have harvested between $100.00 and $150.00 worth of salad so far. I will continue to harvest for at least 3 more months. Hmmm…yes, I do think the investment was worth it.
I do hope this has inspired you to give salad gardening a try. Please feel free to leave comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Read more on this topic with these posts!
- Homemaker’s Goals for the New Year - December 15, 2014
- Quick & Easy – Christmas Meal Hacks - December 10, 2014
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- Simple and Practical Homeschool Routine - August 12, 2014
- Preparing Food for Maternity Leave - July 15, 2014
- Free Kids Chore Checklist - April 8, 2014
- 8 Questions to Ask When De-cluttering - March 25, 2014
- Spring Cleaning Checklists - March 11, 2014
- Confessions of a Homemaking Challenged Homemaker - February 24, 2014
- Overcoming Discouragement With Small Changes - February 11, 2014