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Growing salad leaves

Salad is a very varied and loosely-used term. Some people use it to describe a combination of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, other to describe a range of leaf-greens. Some even use it to describe extravagant and involved recipes. So the definition of salad is not at all set in stone.

For the sake of giving tips and advice to the grower it is easier to class salads as ‘leaf greens’ as all the different varieties tend to have the same or similar growing requirements. Tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in very different ways. So here is our guide on growing salad leaves with tomatoes and cucumbers covered elsewhere.

Salad leaves can be grown direct in the ground or in containers – there’s pros and cons for both ways of growing.

Grow in the ground

Clear the ground of weeds. Salad leaves will resent competition for light and nutrients and at seedling stage, salad leaves may look identical to some common weeds, so it will be hard to separate them.

Prepare a 1cm (1/2 in) drill (a furrow of fine soil created using the edge of a hoe) and water. Space rows at 30cm (12in) apart if creating more than one row. Sow seeds thinly at about 2cm apart (3/4 in) and cover the drills. Mark the rows with a label with salad variety and date of sowing.

As seedlings grow, thin seedlings out so remaining seedlings are 4-5cm (1 ½ -2in) apart.

Grow in containers

Choose containers that have drainage holes and are around 25cm in diameter to ensure a sufficient volume of soil.

Fill with moist multi-purpose compost or seed compost. Sow thinly and thin seedlings to about 4-5cm (1 ½ -2in) apart.

Care

You’ll need to protect against slugs and snails especially in a wet summer. Use slug pellets, or alternatives like copper mats.

Consult the individual seed packet as some salad varieties have differing growing requirements.

Watering crops

Keep seedlings well-watered and protected in cold spells. Dry and/or cold conditions encourage bolting (plants going to seed). This causes less leaf-production and leaves that are more bitter.

Feeding crops

For leafy greens you want to opt for a high-nitrogen fertiliser to make the leafy and stem growth lush and full-flavoured. Just follow instructions on the pack to give your salad greens a good feeding.

Harvesting

Salad leaves are generally ready and harvestable from May to October, with a continual April to August sowing period. You can take advantage of earlier harvests than April by sowing in winter and protecting seedlings with cloches and other protective environments such as fleece.

For continual harvests, cut the leaves of cut-and-come-again salads when they are 3-4 weeks old. Cut so you leave about 2-3cm of the plant above soil level. This will re-sprout and be ready for another harvest in about 3-4 weeks. Expect about 4-5 harvests in a season.

Best varieties of salads

Provencale Mix

Lettuce 'Little Gem’

Spinach ‘Mikado’

Pests and diseases

Slugs and snails

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