Most of us have bought bags of rocket or mixed salad leaves from the supermarket, but how many ever finish the whole packet? Well, if you’re anything like me, the chances are the opened bags end up at the bottom of the fridge with the leftovers turning slimy.
If this sounds familiar, you can avoid waste and save money by growing your own. Salad leaf mixes are about the easiest crops you can grow, and you can pick leaves as and when you need them. The result? No more wasted leaves that have to be consigned to the compost heap.
What to grow
Flick through the pages of a few seed catalogues and you will find a wide range of seed mixes to grow. Among my favourites are Herby Salad Mix (a tasty mixture of mizuna, rocket, red mustard, chicory, Greek cress and lettuce) and Niche Salad Mix (a colourful blend of radish leaf, carrot leaves, red amaranth, golden purslane, wrinkled cress, salad burnet and kale red Russian).
For something a little hotter, I like Oriental Mustards (red giant, red feather and green pizzo mustards) and Oriental Saladini (komatsuna, Chinese cabbage, mizuna, and green and purple mustard). Another winner is Italian Salad Collection, which is a mixture of basil, chicory, lettuce ‘Lollo Rossa’, radicchio and rocket.
When to grow
Most salad leaf mixes can be sown between March and October.
Where to grow
If you have the space, grow salads in beds or borders – these low growing plants can make excellent gap fillers between other plants and will prevent weeds from germinating.
Alternatively, sow seeds in growing bags or large pots filled with multipurpose compost. For a decent crop, ensure containers are between 20-45cm in diameter. Although plants will do best in sun, they can be grown in a slightly shaded spot.
How to grow
In the ground
If growing lettuce leaves in the ground, first prepare the ground by forking it over, removing weeds and raking to leave a fine finish.
Next, make shallow trenches about 1.5cm deep and spread seed thinly along the bottom. Cover with soil and water.
To sow lettuce seeds in pots, fill the container with compost and firm down with your finger tips. Aim to leave a level finish with a 2cm gap between the surface of the compost and the top of the pot.
You can either scatter seed thinly across the surface or sow in rows, cover with compost and water. When seedlings are about 2cm tall, thin out to give them space to grow – check the seed packet for the distance, as this will depend on the variety.
When to pick
Many salad leaf mixes will be ready for picking 21 days after sowing. Keep plants well watered and pick leaves regularly from around the outside of plants to ensure a constant supply of fresh, new leaves. Once plants start to flower, pull them up and put on the compost heap as leaves will become bitter.