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Taste the Difference: Grow Your Own Salad Garden for Flavor, Fun, and Freshness

Taste the Difference: Grow Your Own Salad Garden for Flavor, Fun, and Freshness

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The phrase ‘garden to table’ is the vegetarian equivalent of farm to table. A huge advantage of knowing how to grow a salad garden is having fresh produce on hand that can be harvested as and when required.

Even better is that you have full control over what you grow, and how you tend to it, such as keeping it completely free of pesticides or insecticides, and you can choose to grow it using organic fertilizers too, or none at all. Just leave them be.

Grow space, seeds, or seedlings to start, and then water is all you need. Heck, you can grow herbs and vegetables indoors, without sunlight, by using grow lights and tents instead. You could even opt for an aeroponics setup.

If you have the garden space though, that’s the least challenging method. You can grow what’s in season and change with the climate. Most leafy greens are cool-weather plants.

For gardening in winter months, you can use the same grow space to grow cold-hardy vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, leeks, and cabbage.

It all starts by identifying what you need to start a salad garden.

Planning a Salad Garden: Location, Space, and Sunlight

The best spot in your garden to start a salad patch is somewhere exposed to full sun. The reason is that leafy greens grow fastest when planted in full sun.

There is an exception and that’s in the height of the summer when higher temperatures can cause your vegetables to bolt – which can happen when the temperatures get too hot. If this happens, you’ll get bitter-tasting crops. Not pleasant.

There are things you can do to prevent bolting, such as growing them under a cloche in the summer months or planting taller vegetables as companion plants that can provide shade to lower ground covering plants.

The important part for leafy greens is to start the patch in a location that gets full sun for most of the day. Full sun means about 5 or 6 hours of direct sunlight.

How Much Space Do You Need for a Salad Garden?

Different vegetables have different spacing requirements. As a guideline, the bigger the vegetable you plan to grow, the more space it’ll need around it.

Large heading lettuces, for example, may require 1 foot of spacing between plants, whereas loose leaf varieties can be planted with just 6 inches of spacing between plants.

Cabbages require more space because, unlike lettuce which can be harvested at any growth stage, cabbages need to form into tight balls before they’re ready for harvest.

As such, they require more growing space. As for how far apart to plant cabbage, for a tight clumping ball with multiple leaves, spacing can be double that of lettuce taking up to 24” between plants.

If you’re using shallow garden beds, carrots, and similar root vegetables may require 30cm depth. Baby carrots though, only need between 4 cm and 5 cm depth and planted with 2.5 cm spacing.

If space is limited, there are always workarounds, which can include using grow towers for vertical gardening. Some setups like hydroponics can be used to grow an indoor garden without soil, and can leverage vertical growing instead of long horizontal rows of plants.

Think about the types of foods you’d like to grow, learn about the width and depth they’ll require per plant, and pick a suitable growing method.

Most salad foods can be grown in containers, raised garden beds, and even in pots. It could be as simple as using planters on your window ledge. Garden beds are best reserved for the crops that actually need the ground space.

Pertinent is Understanding How Sunlight Between Seasons Affects Crops

All plants use sunlight to grow. More so, the leafy greens in a salad garden. The more sun they get, the faster they grow, and the bigger crop yield you’ll get.

The downside is that they don’t do great in scorching hot weather because they tend to bolt. You can take preventative steps to shade them in warmer weather, but the easiest way is to grow the crops intended for that season.

Grow leafy greens in the spring and fall, then in the summer months, switch things around to grow things like collard, Swiss chard, and similar heat-tolerant crops.

The same happens in the winter months. Many of the cool weather crops that favor spring and fall harvesting aren’t cold hardy.

Winter vegetable gardening outdoors will require more prep work, maintenance like mulching, building tunnels, and adding thermal blankets to prevent damage from a hard frost – when temperatures reach freezing point. You need cold hardy crops to survive sub-zero temperatures. That is if you want a year-round salad garden.

Crop Selection

Choosing the Right Types of Lettuce and Similar Leafy Greens for Your Salad Garden

Salad gardens grow best when the crops are selected according to the season. Romaine and similar types of heading lettuce varieties, for example, are popular cool-season leafy greens. These grow best when temperatures are between 45oF and 75oF.

Summer is the time for the colorful types of loose-leaf lettuces. Loose leaf salad plants are referred to as ‘cut and come again’ type plants as you don’t harvest the crop, but instead, cut however many salad leaves you need off the plant, and then more grow back.

In the summer months, you can have multiple types of salad leaves from the crispy green varieties to others with shades of purple and red through the leaves.

These create some of the best colorful side dishes. And, being loose leaf, they don’t take as long to grow. You can start cutting leaves in as little as four weeks.

Deciding on Which Vegetables to Grow

The whole point of learning how to grow a salad garden is to grow only the foods you’ll consume. The more you grow, the more you save, and the less waste you have because everyone will have something they’ll eat. From plant to table.

The only thing that limits what you can grow is space. The more types of foods you want to grow, the more space you’ll need. The majority of salad plants take from 50 to 90 days to mature, before they’re ready for harvesting.

Plan your salad garden to include any of the below:

  • Leaf lettuce
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collard greens
  • Romaine
  • Iceberg
  • Chard
  • Arugula
  • Watercress
  • Carrots
  • Radish
  • Beets
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Tomato

Naturally, if there are things in the list above that you aren’t likely to use much of, don’t plant them. Use your space wisely and grow what you use the most.

Some are faster to grow than others, such as leafy greens that can be ready in 50 days, whereas tomato plants can take up to 75 days until they ripen.

Deciding on Whether to Start with Seeds Vs. Buying Seedlings

For beginner gardeners, once you know what you want, the next decision is how to start. Grow from seed or buy and transplant seedlings?

Seedlings are plants that have already been started from seed and grown into baby plants. All you need to do is transplant them into your garden bed and start tending to them.

Seeds, on the other hand, need to be planted, and taken care of so that they germinate and then grow into baby plants that can be transplanted.

The fastest way to start is with seedlings. But, there are instances when that won’t be the best choice, such as when growing root vegetables as none of them transplant easily.

Root vegetables including carrots, radish, beetroot, and onions are always easier to grow by direct seeding to avoid transplanting.

Best advice for simplicity: Start leafy greens with seedlings. Grow root vegetables from seed.

Cultivation Techniques: Soil, Planting, and Watering

The foods you grow will only be as good as the soil they’re planted in. For the most part, leafy greens are shallow-rooted plants that don’t need much depth. They do need loose soil that’s well-draining, and they do better with a little nutritional boost from compost.

On the topic of compost, all plants in garden beds need soil, but very few will do well by planting in compost without soil. Use compost to help plants thrive. Don’t expect it to do the heavy lifting on its own.

Root vegetables grow to a depth of around 30 cm, so if you are planning a mix of leafy greens and root vegetables, it’s best to prepare the soil to a depth of 15” to 18”.

All you need to do is turn the soil, fork it to loosen it, and then the next step is to enrich it with a quality compost. That can be leafmold, composted bark, mushroom compost, or the general multipurpose compost you can buy from your local garden center.

Of utmost importance is tending to weeding because weeds will steal the nutrients that the vegetables need for growth.

Whether you grow from seed or seedling, the instructions on the label or the back of the seed packet will tell you how to plant them including the type of soil, the amount of sunlight they need, optimal ground temperatures, and watering guidelines.

When planting, pay attention to the spacing part. Planting them too close together can result in the plants competing for nutrients, resulting in lower crop yield.

Last, but not least, is the watering component. All plants have different watering requirements. Generally, leafy greens need to be watered regularly, as do young and tender tomato plants.

Once they mature, they don’t need to be watered as much. All plants are best watered only when they need it. You can tell by looking at them as the leaves will begin to wilt and drop.

The fix for drooping plants is usually watering, although there can be other things dehydrating the plant, like pests, or a lack of sunlight causing it to not take up as much water as it needs.

You can get various types of watering systems such as drip irrigation systems, line irrigation systems, and mini sprinkler systems.

These can automate the watering, making it handy for those with busy lifestyles, but the downside of them all is that they make it so easy to overwater your plants. That can ruin everything.

The best practice is to water at the soil level to maintain moisture in the soil and let the plants feed from that.

Produce Protection for a Salad Garden

With your plants growing, it’s going to put a spanner in the works if critters and/or wildlife invade your garden, eat your lush vegetables, leave holes in your lettuce, or birds peck into your tomato plants. They need protection from wildlife and garden pests like moles, rabbits, foxes, deer, and the like.

It’s hard to protect your crops from every living creature, but at the least, start by guarding against your local wildlife population. For example, if you know deer are a common sight in your area and you’re planning to grow tomato plants, it’d make sense to put steps in place to keep deer from eating your tomato plants.

A different approach would be taken to keep rabbits from eating plants. If fencing isn’t possible for whatever reason, there are ways to keep animals out of your garden without a fence.

Think of the wildlife that visit your garden, and the potential damage they could do, and find out the solutions you can put in place before they get a chance to devour your salad garden.

Going forward, maintaining a salad garden is just about keeping the watering optimal, the plants healthy, getting plenty of sunlight, and keeping an eye out for pesky pests like thrips, aphids, spider mites, or slugs and snails causing damage to your plants.

If those problems do arise, there are easy solutions that can be implemented in minutes.

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