Salad greens are very easy to start by seed and can be grown indoors near a sunny window or outdoors on a small balcony since they don't require pollination. You can either start seeds in small pots and transfer them to a larger container when they are ready, or just plant them right in to the soil. The latter is the easiest way for small space indoor gardening.
During peak summer months lettuces tend to "bolt" or grow upright and develop a bitter taste and tough texture, so plan a box for spring or early summer, harvest, and then sow new seeds or add new starts to replant for an autumn salad box. Mix varied colors and leaf textures in your boxes for aesthetics. Different greens will also offer a variety of textures and flavors that will make for an interesting salad. Some greens, such as arugula and escarole, tend to be on the bitter side, while those in the mustard family are spicy and others, like red or green leaf, romaine and butter lettuces are sweeter and mild. A little chervil adds a nice hint of anise to your salad. As well, I like to add edible flowers like nasturtium for a spicy flavor, or borage for a sweeter one. (The flowers will need to be outside, since they need pollination, but the greens can be grown indoors.)
Either buy starts from a local nursery, or order your seeds. The starts are bigger, but I like the variety offered by the seed company Botanical Interests. A few other good places to try are Seed Saver's Exchange, Kitchen Garden Seeds, and The Cook's Garden.
What You Need
Landscaper's cloth (optional)
Seeds or Starts
1. Make sure your container has drainage holes in the bottom and (if it's indoors) that there is something to catch the water run-off. If the container doesn't have drainage, drill holes in the bottom.
2. If you'd like, layer landscaper's cloth along the bottom so that when the water runs out, not too much soil goes with it.
3. Fill your container with good organic potting soil. To mix your own potting soil, see this post. Then, if using seeds, poke holes into the soil with your finger. Space them about 4 inches apart.
4. Sprinkle a few seeds into the hole, and then pat the soil back over the hole. (If you are using starts, see the Strawberry Box instructions for loosing the roots, then plant.) Water!
5. When plants start appearing, cull out some of the new sprouts, leaving the largest, healthiest shoots.
6. Keep soil moist to the touch.
7. You can harvest mixed salad greens when they are young and tender. Don't cut or pick the entire plant; rather, pull off the outer leaves and the let the plants keep growing. (The box shown in Photo 9 above provides about one small salad a day, or a larger salad every two days.)
8. This salad planter shown in Photo 10 has some greens that are particularly good for cooler weather. They include Joi Choi, which is tolerant to heat and cold, Giant Red Mustard, my favorite in salads, Frisse, as well as arugula (although sometimes my arugula goes to seed and sprouts yellow flowers). I clip those flowers and use them in salads as they have a nice spicy flavor. This planter also grows radicchio (this is great in a salad with pomegranate seeds in the winter), and red and green leaf lettuce.
Additional Notes: This box can take some dappled shade, but should get about 6 hours of sun a day in cooler temperatures. Keep the soil moist to touch. In really hot, sunny places, your greens won't be happy in peak summer, so put some sun-loving herbs in them. If you live in a cool place or have partial shade, go ahead with your autumn replanting a little earlier. Plant your box with tatsoi, escarole, and mâche spinach, and chard for an early winter salad box.
About the Author:
Maria Finn has written for Saveur, Metropolis, Forbes, The New York Times, ABC.com, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Prospect & Refuge, a garden-design and installation firm and also writes the weekly newsletter/blog City Dirt, dedicated to adventures in urban gardening. Her newest book, A Little Piece of Earth: How To Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces, will be released on February 16. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, California.
Other Posts from Maria Finn:
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(Images: Maria Finn)