How to Grow Your Own Salad Year-Round!
There’s nothing salad fans love more than the crispness of fresh lettuce, the crunch of carrots and radishes, and the variety of textures offered by unique greens and other veggies. However, the only way to ensure this level of freshness outside of expensive restaurants, is to get your salad fixins directly from the garden.
Unless you have a year-round farmer’s market nearby, or you live in the Pacific Northwest where temperatures stay at a steady 60 degrees all year, you only have a couple months of prime salad growing weather. Most lettuces only thrive in temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees.
Luckily for us, modern technology has made it possible to grow our own salads year-round, either indoors or in a homemade greenhouse. Below are a few tips on how to choose your salad plants, and how keep your salad garden thriving all year!
Plant a variety of lettuces and veggies
Many people are unaware of how many varieties of lettuce there are. Some lettuces do best in cooler weather, while others love the heat. Plant a bit of each, and you’ll have salad year-round!
In the late winter/early spring, you can plant varieties like Arctic King, Winter Marvel, Winter Density, Black-seeded Simpson, and Astro Arugula. In the late spring/early summer, you can plant Red Butterworth, Torenia, Larissa, Craquerelle Du Midi, Rosalita, Emu spinach, and Tyee spinach.
This goes for other vegetables as well. For example, carrots and broccoli like cooler weather, whereas tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers need warmth and lots of sun.
Keep on sowing
If you want to make sure you never run out of salad, or you want a buffer in case of some failed crops, don’t just plant one set of seeds and hope for the best. Lettuce should be sown every week or two, in order to get a steady harvest throughout the year.
Protect your plants
In this day and age, you no longer have to rely on the weather to ensure you get a bountiful crop of salad ingredients. If you plan on starting seedlings during a time of the year that isn’t ideal for them, start them out indoors. You can keep them under lights (a florescent light is fine as long as you keep it close), or if you still have plentiful sun, you can keep them in a sunroom or a homemade greenhouse. Use seed-starting potting soil to give your seedlings an extra boost.
Once your plants are established, you can move them outdoors. When it’s cold outside (under 35 degrees) you can use garden quilts to keep your plants warm. If it’s warmer than that, but still not the ideal temperature, you can use garden fabric to provide a bit of protection without overheating your plants. If it’s too hot or sunny for your plants, use some shade netting to give them a break.
Research your soil
Different plants require different types of soil. If you want to get it exactly right, you can look up the ideal soil pH levels desired by your plants. If that’s too much science for you, just make sure the basic composition is right. Lettuce prefers rich, moisture-retaining, loamy soil. Broccoli thrives in sandy soil, and carrots like their soil loosely packed.
There are many different ways to fertilize your soil as well. You can go the natural route, using manure, seaweed, or compost, or you can buy a chemical spray that is formulated specifically for vegetables (so it’s non-toxic). Make sure you use your fertilizer in the correct way for the veggies you’re growing – for instance, once onion bulbs begin to emerge from the ground, you can’t cover them up with soil or fertilizer.
Harvest, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Once your delectable selection of salad veggies is ready to be picked, have at it! Make sure you know the best way to harvest the specific plant, so you don’t do damage that will stop it from re-producing. Lettuce should be cut with a knife, leaving ½ inch of leafiness behind. Onions need time to dry out above-ground before you remove them and eat them. When cutting cucumbers from the vine, leave ¼ inch of stem behind.
Always wash your vegetables thoroughly, especially if you use manure or chemical fertilizers. There is a wealth of information about specific veggies and varieties of lettuce online, so don’t be afraid to look! Also, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. Vegetable seeds are cheap and plentiful, and practice makes perfect!