Grow your own salad ingredients

 It seems as if we are in for a hot summer, which means that salads are on the menu. Why not grow your own?

For salads to be really scrumptious, everything needs to be super fresh, sweet, crunchy and tasty. Limp leaves, soggy cucumber and tasteless tomatoes do not a salad make. It’s enough to scare off the kids.

Growing your own salad solves all that. It’s also healthier. Picking salad ingredients  as you need them keeps in all the goodness (minerals and vitamins). The longer the time lapse from soil to plate, the more nutrient value is lost. And it is just so satisfying to harvest from your own garden, whether it is from the veggie patch, the flowerbeds or from pots.

Salad basics
The basics of a good salad are colour, texture, crunch and tang, with salad greens as a base. That’s all brought together with a dressing, such as a classic vinaigrette or a creamy dressing using Greek yoghurt or sour cream. Herbs are always an excellent addition to a salad as well as in the dressing.

Here are some suggestions for salad ingredients that are quick to grow from seed:

  • Colour: baby tomato ‘Red Cherry Sweetie’ or baby ‘Yellow Pear’, radishes, nasturtium ‘Alaska’, and purple leaf basil ‘Dark Opal’. Cherry tomatoes produce fruit faster than normal sized tomatoes. The first  fruit is generally ready to harvest from 60 to 70 days.
  • Crunch and texture: cucumber varieties like ‘Crystal Apple’ or ‘Sweet Burpless’, baby carrot ‘Little Finger, Sugar Snap pea ‘Sugar Charm’ and radishes Cherry Belle or Sparkler. ‘Sugar Charm’ sugar snap pea can be sown from spring to autumn and are prolific producers.
  • Tang: Spring onion ‘ White Lisbon’ , rocket, chives and garlic chives. All these are cut and come again varieties that deliver flavour all summer long.
  • Salad greens: baby spinach ‘Lazio’, mixed  loose leaf lettuce, summer head lettuce ‘Saladin’, sweet basil, rocket, coriander. Grow a mix of greens for greater variety and

Quick start – baby leaf spinach Lazio and radish Cherry Belle

To get your salad garden into quick productive mode, sow baby spinach leaves and radishes. Toss them with olives and feta or soft mozzarella and splash over some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add hardboiled egg halves for more protein and colour.

  • Spinach Lazio is ideal for baby leaf salads. Scatter sow thickly and lightly cover with vermiculite, a thin layer of soil or seedling mix and press down. Keep moist during germination and harvest early by snipping leaves with scissors. Leaves will be ready for cutting within 35 days.
  • Radish ‘Cherry Belle’ or ‘Sparkler’ are the perfect quick nibble or salad ingredient. Radishes germinate in three to eight days and are ready for picking from three weeks. The nicest radishes are pulled before they are fully grown. Regular watering will produce crisp, tasty radishes.

Salad caprese with a twist: cherry tomatoes and sweet basil

Italian cooks have an instinct for flavour embedded int their DNA. What could be more delicious than Salad Caprese, a combination of sun-ripened tomatoes, sweet basil and soft mozzarella cheese, perhaps with a drizzle of pesto as a dressing. A vegan version, however, substitutes the mozzarella with crusty ciabatta and olives and a splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze.

Tomato ‘Red Cherry Sweetie’ produces clusters of bite sized, small very sweet tomatoes. It is an indeterminate vine variety that needs staking to support its growth. Its first fruit should be ready for harvest within 65 days and it continues to set fruit throughout summer until the first frost. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil and water well.

Sweet basil and purple basil ‘Dark Opal’ both have a delicious fragrance. Sweet basil has minty and anise-like undertones while Dark Opal has hints of cloves. Sow them directly into fertile, well composted soil and keep plants growing strongly with regular watering. They are good companions for tomatoes, keeping pests away and enhancing the flavour of the fruit.

Colourful and crunchy: Cucumber Crystal Apple and Nasturtium Alaska

Cucumbers are an essential part of the summer salad bowl, and only one or two vines are necessary to supply enough fruit. Nasturtiums act as trap crops for aphids but the flowers and leaves are also edible, with a light peppery flavour. This very  healthy, multi-coloured salad also features red and yellow cherry tomatoes, shredded baby Red Cabbage, carrots and lettuce.

Cucumber ‘Crystal Apple’ looks more like a Granny Smith apple, but the taste is pure cucumber with a tang. Sow seed in full sun, space plants 90cm apart as they grow 60 to 70cm, compact for a cucumber.

Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ has distinctive white and green leaves along with the customary orange, yellow and scarlet flowers. Like all nasturtiums this is a sun lover, thrives in any type of soil that drains well and should not be fertilised or over watered, otherwise its leaves outstrip its flowers.


Green and leafy: Mixed leaf lettuce and spring onions ‘White Lisbon’

There’s an art to making a green salad. Mix veggie and herb leaves for a bouquet of different flavours, colours and textures, enhanced with a sprinkling of chopped spring onions (tops and bulbs). Make your own vinaigrette dressing with salad oil, white grape vinegar, mustard, and finely chopped garlic and herbs, adding salt to taste.

Kirchhoffs ‘Salad Mixed’ contains a mix of cut and come again, loose leaf varieties are the most suitable for semi-shade. This includes red and green lettuce with varied leaf types that can be used as baby leaf or full-grown lettuce. When treating it as a cut and come-again salad leaf, use the older, outer leaves and new leaves will grow from the centre. Lettuce like moist, fertile soil that drains well.

Spring onions ‘ White Lisbon’  can be sown all year round in frost free areas. Seeds are sown directly into the ground and take two to three weeks to germinate. Don’t over water once the seedlings are up. Once the plants are large enough (60 days onwards) you can start pulling them up, bulb and all. To keep them going, take four or five out of the clump that you have harvested and replant them about 7cm (four fingers) apart.

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