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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Spring Salad Greens


As winter drags on, gardeners are chomping at the bit to be the first out in their gardens. Even if you don't consider yourself a vegetable gardener or a gardener at all, I highly recommend brightening your spring table with some salad greens you can proudly proclaim you grew yourself. It's really not difficult at all, and it's economical.

I grew up thinking iceberg lettuce was the only kind of lettuce people ate. This was way before so many greens options were readily available for purchase as seed for home gardens, or as ready-to-eat products at the grocery store. I do have some vague recollection of a bright lime-green leaf lettuce growing in our home garden as a child. I remember eating pieces right out of the garden, but I don't remember it ever being really used at mealtimes with my family.

We're used to salad greens meaning lettuce, but if you take a closer look at what is marketed as 'spring mix', 'baby greens' , or 'mesclun', usually not all of it is lettuce. It is not uncommon for these mixes to contain a mix of leaf lettuces, plus other greens like beets, endive, fennel, or mustard greens.

Today we have so many options for salad greens ready-to-eat from the grocery store, but the price tends to be relatively high for these specialty mixes compared to mixes containing iceberg or romaine lettuce. For the price of one ready-to-eat package, you can buy enough seed to produce your own specialty salad mix for an entire season or more.

Probably the simplest way to grow spring salad greens is to sow seeds in any size pot, using a standard soilless potting mix. A pot can be planted long before the ground warms up and dries out in the spring. Plus a pot can be placed out of reach of local rabbits. If you would like to expand your crop of spring greens beyond a few pots, I would recommend a "salad table".

A salad table has legs like a table, and a raised bed a few feet off the ground. The "baby" version for small spaces, the salad box, is much smaller and doesn't have legs, but has handles so you can move it around easily. The plans are available free of charge from University of Maryland Extension at: http://extension.umd.edu/growit/food-gardening-101/salad-tables™ . This website also contains videos of how to build and plant a salad table.

Since my "discovery" of the salad table plans, I have noticed that several of my favorite gardening catalogs and stores have added table height gardens very similar in size to the salad table. They are very attractive, but honestly the prices are pretty outrageous, $200 and up. My husband was able to build our salad table out of composite recycled plastic lumber for about $90. Making the salad table out of plain untreated wood would reduce the price substantially. Keep in mind that treated lumber should not be used in parts of the salad table that contact soil.

My husband built us a salad table in 2007, complete with his own addition of a clear plastic "tent" to extend the season, which has allowed us to harvest salad greens into the winter months. I don't think I'll ever grow salad greens directly in the ground again! What I love about the salad table is it is at a comfortable height to work in, and my local rabbit friends can't get to it.

I have tried several different mixes of salad greens, and have made some of my own. I made my own mix just by combining seed of different greens that appealed to me in one package.

A big advantage of growing salad greens in a container, whether it's a salad table or a pot, is that you can get your seed planted far earlier than in the garden. The soil in my garden will be far too cold and wet to work in this month, but the Salad Table is ready to go.

I use a standard potting mix in my salad table, and I would suggest the same if using a pot for salad greens. Garden soil is just too heavy and doesn't drain well in a container.

At planting time, mix in some time-release fertilizer with the potting mix. Then you don't need to remember to fertilize later.

When planting your salad greens seed, the potting mix should be moist but not soaking wet. I don't plant the seed in rows, rather I sprinkle the seed across the planting mix. Gently rake the surface and pat down to ensure the seed has good contact with the soil, which will speed up germination.

As the seed sprouts and grows, ideally you will want to thin the plants out so they all have adequate room to grow. I personally have a hard time doing this. I just can't bring myself to choose which plants stay and which plants go. I still harvest plenty of greens though.

Just like when growing salad greens directly in the ground, you can obtain several harvests from the salad greens grown in containers by harvesting the greens with scissors, then letting the plants continue to grow. This "cut and come again" method should work for at least two or three rounds in a given planting.

Even if you don't think of yourself as a vegetable gardener, try some salad greens in a container this year. Consider greens mixed in as accents with annual flowers in containers. Once you try fresh salad that you harvest from your own porch or patio, you'll be hooked.

 



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