Have you ever picked up a bag of expensive but tired-looking salad leaves in the supermarket and wondered when they were picked, or who picked them? Wonder no more! Growing a few organic, chemical-free salad leaves is one of the simplest but also one of the most positive contributions you can make not just towards the health of your household budget – but also more importantly, to your own health! It will also give you a sense of achievement that money can’t buy
For the price of that bag of salad leaves – two or three packets of seed could provide you with the healthiest take-away fast food ever, for an entire year! Some DIY multiples sell great value own-brand seed mixes of coloured loose-leaf types of lettuce or salad leaves. This photo shows 27 varieties. These ‘cut and come’ again type leaves will provide leaves for months, just picking some of the largest every day! If you don’t want to bother with sowing seeds, most garden centres sell lettuce and spinach plants – but you will have a far wider variety if you sow your own.
You don’t need a garden – you can grow plenty of salads in large containers if you only have a path or balcony. Even more, if you use the same amount of ground space to garden vertically on a re-purposed stepladder! The photo below shows a variety of salad leaves and spring onions. Most gardeners never have enough room for everything that they want to grow and container gardening this way is a useful way to gain more space, with the added advantage of no slug problems!
You don’t need expensive pots. Any recycled plastic or wooden box, deep enough to hold compost, with holes at the bottom for drainage, is suitable for growing baby-leaf salads. Six inches or more is best if you want your salads to crop for several weeks. Save money on containers and spend it instead on a really good quality organic, peat-free compost which will give you the healthiest, most nutrient-rich plants.
Sow seeds in small pots or modules of a peat-free compost specifically formulated for seeds, then plant when they’re large enough to handle into your container using a good quality peat-free potting compost such as SylvaGrow. All of the SylvaGrow range is now used and endorsed by the RHS and has just been awarded the ‘Which’ Best Buy recommendation. It is widely available throughout the UK. It isn’t necessarily the cheapest – but it is the best. Mixing the compost half-and-half with good garden soil is a clever way to stretch it, doing this both reduces the cost and also helps to retain moist conditions in the containers. Water the plants in when planting and after that don’t let the compost dry out too much – keep it just evenly moist – but never saturated. Salad plants will crop for a long time if you pick some of the larger leaves from the outside of the plants as you need them, rather than cutting them all at once. After the first few weeks, they will need feeding with a good organic liquid plant food in order to produce lush, nutrient-rich leaves for as long as possible. Moreinformation on various methods of seed sowing can be found on my blog.
Nicky Kyle has been growing all of her family’s food organically for over 40 years and was one of Ireland’s first certified organic commercial growers. She was a director of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) and also co-founder and director of The Organic Trust. She regularly lectures on organic topics and writes a monthly blog about organic gardening, poultry, wildlife, healthy eating and cooking – www.nickykylegardening.com . She also writes a monthly column in *The Irish Garden* magazine and is co presenter of the popular *’From Tunnel to Table’* feature on* LMFM Radio’s* award-winning *Late Lunch Show* with Gerry Kelly. She was also the founder of *The* *Totally Terrific Tomato Festival – *which aims to promote awareness of the importance of preserving genetic diversity in food crops.
This article and photographs are copyright and may not be copied or used in any way by any other person without the express permission of Nicky Kyle.