Growing Salad Greens
There’s a problem with salad greens. Get the big tub of spring mix off the grocery store shelf and it will be filled with slimy greens before you reach the end. Get the small tub and you wont have enough greens to last the week. The only solution is to grow your own salad through the spring, harvesting fresh greens that will always be on hand and hit your plate before going bad.
How much do you need?
Start by figuring out exactly how much salad mix you will need. Most small tubs of salad mix sold in grocery stores are 5 ounces. Though yields are difficult to predict you should be able to grow around a pound of spring mix from six square feet of soil. The amount of lettuce seed you need would be around a 1/16 of an ounce to yield 1 pound of lettuce.
In order to have a continuous harvest of salad you should divide your salad plot into smaller subsections. Harvest can begin in as little as three weeks so you could divide your plot into quarters or four rows, and plant a quarter a week. With this strategy you should have a good amount of salad greens each week. You could mix it up with brassica greens like baby bok choi and kale, but be aware that they mature more quickly than lettuce so they should probably be planted in beds or rows of their own.
Prepare your garden bed with compost and manure. You don’t need particularly deep soil, but make sure that you have good drainage. Salad greens don’t need as much direct sunlight as many vegetables, so they can be a good way to make use of a shaded spot in your garden. Around 4 hours of direct sunlight should suffice. You can also plant salad greens in trays or pots. A pot 18 inches across and at least 6 inches deep should work.
There are a variety of seed mixes for lettuce available in most garden stores. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a popular and easy to grow "All Star Gourmet Lettuce Mix" and High Mowing Seeds offers a great Mesclun Mix that provides a reliable yield and flavorful salad.
Most gardeners plant salad greens in rows or broadcast them in beds, covering the seeds with 1/8to 1/4 inch of soil. The broadcast method has the advantage of ease. Simply rake or till loose a patch in your garden and evenly toss seeds across the soil. Then cover the seeds with soil. Once the seeds start to sprout you will need to thin them to around 2-3 inches apart. The small greens you pull out while thinning are great additions to salads and packed with nutrients.
Water with a light mister in the morning and evening, but avoid watering in the hottest part of the day. You can continue to fertilizer the mix with fish emulsion, particularly following harvest.
Once the lettuce greens have reached 4-6 inches they are ready to harvest. Cut them 1/4 of an inch above the soil line. Most plants will regrow their leaves in another few weeks so you’ll be able to harvest them again throughout the season. Lettuces are cool season crops, which means they don’t like the heat. Eventually they will become bitter in the hotter parts of the country. You can extend the season by using a special shade cloth, but many gardeners call it quits on lettuce by the end of June.
For those accustomed to prewashed greens, it is also good to remember that you’ll need to wash your lettuce unless you like your salads full of grit. Simply rinse the lettuce under cold water and spin in a salad spinner until it’s dry. Then enjoy the harvest—you’ll never have a better salad than the one you grow yourself.
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