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Save money by planting your own summer salad box

How to grow your own summer salads. By Sam Wylie-Harris.



If the idea of foraging for fresh food fills you with joy, how about going one step further and building a salad with ingredients you’ve grown yourself?


“Growing your own fruit and vegetables is becoming increasingly popular, with more people discovering the many benefits of producing your own food,” says Daniel Carruthers, of Cultivar Greenhouses.


Not only can growing from seed be cost-effective, you’ll hopefully end up with an abundance of fresh food – even when shops are low on stock.



Want to try and grow your own salads? Here’s how to get started…


What to plant


“If I had to name one crop I could always grow, eat, and sell, it would have to be salad crops,” says Jane Scotter, a Herefordshire biodynamic farmer (fernverrow.com), who grows seasonal vegetables, fruit and herbs for some of London’s top restaurants.



“A high-value crop, much sought-after by restaurant customers and individuals alike,” notes Scotter, who has also just launched her first online gardening course with Create Academy.




She says the flavour of the leaves, picked just before eating, is far superior to anything one can buy. “Eaten fresh captures the zest and essence of flavour, and texture of the tender leaves.”


Varieties of salad leaves


There are lots of varieties of salad leaves you can grow. “For spring, I like the hot zing of the mustards, such as mizuna, mibuna, purple frills and golden frills,” says Scotter.


These are all from the brassica family, and are quick to germinate and fast to grow.


Zesty mizuna salad loves a miso dressing (Alamy/PA)

“I find rocket to be rather overrated as a salad leaf, except when grown in the spring and autumn, while the days are warmer, but nights are still cool,” she adds.


Scotter says the flavour is much fuller, the leaves more robust and altogether quite different from summer-grown rocket, which she finds thin in both flavour and substance.


Fruits of the vine


“Tomatoes are a firm favourite in most salads and, with shortages in many supermarkets at the moment, it’s a great time to start growing your own,” suggests Carruthers.


With so many varieties to choose from, he suggests popular types such as Brandywine tomatoes, known for their large, beefsteak-shaped fruit and delicious taste, and Tigerella – “an old faithful, which has a beautiful red and orange striped skin”.


Is there anything tastier than a mixed tomato salad? (Alamy/PA)

Carruthers continues: “Cucumbers are a perfect summer fruit, adding a refreshing crunch to salads. There are almost 100 different varieties, so choosing which ones to grow can be a minefield.”


Picolino and Cucumber Goblin are smaller than more popular varieties, but they provide higher yields throughout the season – ideal for keeping your salads going over the summer, he adds.


How to plant salad seeds


Direct sow the seeds into clean, weed-free soil, says Scotter.


“They’re not hungry feeders, so lots of fertility is not a big issue. If you don’t have a garden, fill a container or wooden box (with holes in the bottom for drainage) with organic compost. Fill the box at least 20cm deep with the fine soil. Pat down firmly and evenly.


“Then make a small trench, about 2cm deep and 4cm wide, using your finger or a round-ended tool, the thickness of a marker pen,” she adds. “Aim to have seeds about 1-2cm apart. Don’t worry about being too exact, but try not over sow, as plants will grow small and not as healthily.”


Watering seeds with a rose on your watering can will reap its rewards (Alamy/PA)

Cover with soil carefully and pat down firmly. She says to water with a watering can rose at first, otherwise seeds will not be evenly moistened, plus they may float away if water is added in a heavy-handed way.


“If these are started early to mid-March, you should see germination within 10 days. Sow at least four lines. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and in a sunny spot outside. Your salad leaves should be ready for their first harvest within three weeks,” says Scotter.


“The varieties I’ve mentioned are cut-and-come-again crops – meaning you can cut at least four times from the same plant, before the leaves begin to get tough and lose flavour.”


How much to plant


Leafy greens are one of the best superfoods, rich in nutrients and antioxidants (Alamy/PA)

“As a rough guide, a metre-length strip of mustard leaves will produce about 500g over three weeks. So, if you sowed four different varieties that would be two kilos,” says Scotter.


“I would expect to serve two people about 150g a serving. And when you consider the shop-bought mixes are around £30 kilo, you’re not only eating the best – but at a good price, too.”

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