Michelle Chapman looks ahead to summer where she can enjoy the fruits of her labour. With the April seasonal shift, now is the perfect time to start growing some salad
The chiffchaffs are back
The recent spell of warm weather means I’ve been busy in the garden at last. I have a heavy clay soil which takes a while to warm up, so I’ve learned to delay my vegetable sowing until I see those pesky weeds starting to show some fresh growth and colour. Easter saw that seasonal shift and it’s a joy to be outside, especially as I’ve been accompanied by all kinds of birdsong. The chiffchaffs are back with their distinctive call, so it can’t be long until we see the swallows return to these shores.
One thing you must grow
One of my favourite gardening activities is to grow lots of different salad leaves. If there’s only one thing you grow, do consider these as your top priority. There’s room to harvest a goodly crop from the tiniest of spaces, and weight for weight salad leaves are amongst the most expensive items you can buy from the fresh produce counter. Besides, those salad bags usually contain just 3 or 4 varieties of leaves, whereas it’s possible to easily have 10 or more on your plate if you grow your own.
It's not always about saving money
However, for me it’s not really about saving money. Salads are simply we like to eat the most because they suit our constitution, and for us their productivity is a huge bonus. By growing my own, I also ensure our salads are never boring.
Grow varieities separately
I admit I’ve not had much success with those packets of mixed leaves. I’ve found one of the varieties—usually mustard—tends to grow much faster and out compete its tardier companions. Instead, I grow my varieties separately, in short rows so there’s plenty of everything without growing to excess. For the two of us, I’ve found a patch of around 8 feet by 4 is sufficient to keep us in salad through the summer and well into autumn. A great alternative is to grow each variety in its own pot if your space is a balcony or small patio.
Bish, Bash, Bosh
I’ve been experimenting with some seed tapes over the past couple of years. When I first looked at these a few years ago, the choice was rather limited. Now there are several types of lettuce of various shapes and hue, a good rocket, radishes, turnips (the last two for their leaves), flat-leaf parsley and spinach easily available. The beauty of these is they’re dead easy to sow in short rows—water the area, twist off the tape to the desired length and quickly cover with compost before it blows away. Bish, bash, bosh and I’m done.
A rainbow of salad leaves
To these I’ll add some of our favourites which are only available as seed—coriander, bull’s blood beetroot for their colourful leaves, chervil for an aniseed lift, watercress-like nasturtiums (we eat flowers, leaves and seed—the latter when small as larger ones taste like cardboard), Greek basil and rainbow coloured chard. I may even raid the flower beds for a few viola or agastache leaves, and some mint from the pot on the patio to add to the mix.
The fruits of my labour
I’m looking forward to late June when I’ll start to harvest the fruits of this week’s labours. Taking off the outer leaves so that a central core remains to grow back—as recommended by salad guru Charles Dowding—means I can keep my small space productive over a much longer period of time. Here’s to those many salad days of summer.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and garden blogger from Wiltshire. She writes the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where her small town garden is a regular feature alongside any topic which springs to mind whilst at her allotment.