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Salad crops

Save a fortune with your own ‘bistro’ mixes

Red lettuce
Red lettuce looking good enough to eat, Pike Place Market Urban Garden, Seattle

Leaves. Bits of hedge. Fancy salad leaves don’t go down well with my family, but they’re one of the priciest things you buy at the supermarket. It’s a shame, as they’re so easy to grow, almost all year.

If you’re after perfect, full-hearted traditional lettuce, then you’re better off growing them in a raised bed or border, but cut-and-come-again seed mixes are perfect for containers, so you don’t even need a garden.

I have one of Suttons Stacks of Flavour boxes – a selection of treated wooden boxes that are sadly no longer available. However, you can buy similar boxes elsewhere or improvise your own with reclaimed pallets or grocer’s boxes.

My Speedy Leaves Box, (a crate tray 53cm x 36cm x 9cm) came with an inner liner and four packets of seeds – Salad Californian Mix, Salad Italian Mix, Salad Oriental Mix and Cos Lettuce Dixter.

As leaf salad is so quick to grow, a shallow box like this is ideal – you can also move it to somewhere partially shady if the weather is scorching – lettuce doesn’t like extreme heat and it can inhibit germination.

The compost gets exhausted quickly, so replace it with each fresh batch of leaves – it doesn’t take much filling.

potted-guide-logo Potted guide: salad leaves

  •  SOWING TIME: Nov-March indoors; March-Oct outdoors, depending on variety.
  •  HARVESTING TIME: From 3 weeks to 3 months from sowing.
  •  PLANTING DISTANCE: Cut-and-come again leaves n/a; lettuce 25-30cm.
  •  ASPECT AND SOIL: Light shade required in summer; full sun spring/autumn. Rich, well-drained, water well.
  • HARDINESS: Some hardy varieties.
  • DIFFICULTY: Very easy.
  • RECOMMENDED VARIETIES: Cut-and come-again – any loose leaf lettuce will work, or buy specific mixes; headed – and Cos Lettuce Dixter, Challenge, Hilde II, All The Year Round, Intred.

Catch cropping and successional sowing

Red oak leaf lettuce
Red oak leaf lettuce under netting

As lettuce and related leaves germinate and mature quickly, they’re ideal for filling any gaps in your veg (or even flower) beds.

Lettuce should be sown every week or fortnight, so you spread your crop during the growing season – no good having 80 ready at once.

Fit in small rows as earlier crops such as potatoes and summer roots are harvested.

A note of caution – lettuce is one of the few crops that appreciate a little bit of shade and slightly cooler temperatures on the hottest days.

Germination is inhibited at high temperatures, so be warned.

Winter leaf crops

I usually try to grow some kind of green stuff in the conservatory over winter, even if it’s just enough to add to a sandwich.

There are plenty of cut-and-come-again winter salad mixes out there, but what I find best are pea shoots.

Twinkle is a good variety to go for, with pea-flavoured (obviously) shoots in three weeks in seed trays. They go very well in a pasta dish with smoked salmon.

Rocket is happy to germinate at low temperatures and quite depleted soil. I’ve used the old tomato grow bags to get a second crop in before the weather gets too cold.