Success with Salad

Even the smallest garden will have room to grow salad leaves either in containers, raised beds or small areas of ground.  They are very easy to grow, crop quickly and you can pick, fresh exactly what you like to put in your salad bowl.

Wholehead lettuce

You may choose to grow lettuce varieties which are cropped as whole heads: cos, romaine, butterhead or iceburg.  The seed packet will give specific information but generally lettuces grown as full heads will take 10 – 14 weeks to reach maturity.  They are more suited to be in the open ground. Most lettuces are sown between March and July.  For a succession of lettuce crops it is necessary to make a sowing once a month.

Tip – to extend your lettuce season by a month at each end grow ‘Winter Density’ or ‘Glory of the Four Seasons’.  They can be sown under protection in January and planted out in March or sown in August for a late autumn crop.  Late crops benefit from protection by cloches.

 Sowing

Prepare the seed or planting bed by gently raking and incorporate a base fertilizer such as fish, blood and bone. You can sow lettuce directly into the ground and subsequently thin the seedlings.  Vigilance for slug damage on young seedlings is essential.  A safer way to rear the young lettuce plants is to sow the seeds into plug trays and plant out once large enough to handle – usually four weeks from sowing.  In Patrick’s Patch we keep our newly sown or planted lettuces under a fleece covering for the first couple of weeks; this keeps the moisture levels high as they establish.  Bio-friendly slug deterrents are always applied around the young seedlings.

 Growing

Lettuces must not dry out or they will ‘bolt’ which is when they change from leafy growth to produce a flower.  It is best to water early in the morning and keep the water off the foliage.

We have found that Cos and iceburg varieties  need  to be grown under netting to protect from birds. Aphids/greenfly are common and hard to control without chemical.  Soak the lettuce leaves in a full sink of water for a good twenty minutes and then rinse!

 Cut and come again lettuce

Unlike the wholehead lettuce types, loose-leaf lettuce varieties are happy to have leaves repeatedly picked off them whilst they are growing.  Once they get to about 5cm high you can pick a few of the outer leaves off each plant.  Or when slightly larger you can cut across with scissors removing most of the leaves but not the central growing point.  This operation can usually be carried out 2-3 times before the plants start to age and become bitter.

Recommended varieties; red and green salad bowl, Multired 5 + Multired 3, Bijou, Lollo rosso and Catalogne.

Sowing loose leaf varieties is the same method as wholeheads but they will not need such wide spacing and they mature more quickly.  They can be used as a filler crop between other vegetables. Loose-leaf varieties lend themselves to be mixed with other types of salad leaf and herbs to make delicious and decorative salad-bowl mixes.

Other cut and come again leaves to add to your salad bowl

Mixing different leaves with your lettuce adds interesting flavours and colours to the salad mix.  Other young leaves we love adding to our salads are; chervil, coriander, basil, purple orach, red beetroot, red kale, spinach, pea shoots, parsley, marjoram, chard.

To see a full list of all our handy fact sheets click here