Grow your own salad leaves this summer

We’re so often urged to grow our own because of the freshness and flavour of veg picked, prepared and eaten with just a few steps in between, and summer salad leaves are no different. But for me, the story is even bigger than that, for the more I can grow at home, the less food miles I’ll be contributing to. And the less plastic packaging I’ll use.

I suppose that for convenience, freshness and to prevent damage the supermarkets have deemed the polythene bag an essential. And they do seem to extend the life of the leaves, and from the consumers point of view the bag contains the slime when they decompose in the fridge. It seems to be a but of a national obsession, that so many people buy bagged salads on the pretext of them being healthy, but then don’t get round following through with the good intentions.  For a few years ago, it was estimated that ‘we’ throw away 37,000 tonnes of salad every year. That’s quite a weight when you consider that salad is quite lightweight stuff.

Why grow your own salad leaves

While all those bags of mixed salad leaves are reasonably cheap to buy, it only needs you to buy 2 of the small ones a week to come out at £100-150 a year. And the polythene isn’t recycled by my local authority – I don’t know about yours.

Now not all salads and salad leaves are sold in polythene. Some farm shops and retails present it loose, with paper bags. But there are obvious shelf life and hygiene issues to take into account.

So what about growing salad leaves to try and be a bit greener? I’ve grown lots of pots of it in my time and it really couldn’t be easier – certainly in the spring and summer outside. And if you’ve got a porch, cold greenhouse, conservatory or  windowsill, then they can be grown in winter too, as long as there’s plenty of light. The pot in the main picture, here,  is one that Alan Titchmarsh sowed for a video in our recent BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, Veg Growing Masterclass on line. And the mixed salad leaves were up in about a week, in a sheltered position outside.

I’ll be picking from that pot in a couple of weeks so, all in all, about 3 weeks after sowing. And the crop will go on for a couple of months. They’re quick and easy, and once you’ve bought the seed (there’s loads in a packet) and the compost – you can use an old pot or bucket with holes punched in the sides – that potful cost less than one bag of supermarket salad. I’ve got a pot that I’m already picking from and will sow another in 2-3 weeks, so that I’ve got a succession of crop to harvest.

How to sow salad leaves

The container is best if it’s about 40cm in diameter and deep to maintain moisture and air in the compost. You’ll stress the crop if it dries out completely. And I use a mix of 1-part (by volume) of garden soil or bagged loam, with 2-parts of peat-free compost. Alan used that mix too in his video.

Fill the pot to within a couple of centimetres of the rim of the pot or whatever container you’re using and tap the sides to settle it in place. Then make some shallow seed drills in the surface (preferably only 5mm deep) and sprinkle a few seeds along each one. In a 40cm diameter pot, aim to make 4 parallel rills of different lengths and sow around 30 seeds in total. Cover the seeds with compost, water thoroughly put in a light, shelter place – outdoors or in – and watch them pop up.

If you sowed some this weekend, you could be eating your own salad leaves in 3 weeks. And you can pick them fresh when you need them, and they won’t be cold and clammy from a polythene bag in the fridge. They’ll taste of something and you’ll want to eat them because you grew them. Enough said.

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