A How To Guide: Constructing A Lettuce Bench For Nearly Year Round Salad Greens.

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My family enjoys eating salads and we eat a lot of salad. When I first discovered the concept of the lettuce bench, also referred to as a salad bench, I immediately gathered the necessary supplies to construct my own.

When I began to read about this outdoor planter, I learned that the salad table was designed in 2006 by University of Maryland gardening expert Jon Traunfel. Apparently, Mr. Traunfeld got the idea from a metal version he saw being used on an organic farm in southern Maryland. Regardless of how Mr. Traunfeld devised the idea, it is a fairly simple concept that I wish I'd thought of myself.

The wooden version is easy to construct and very easy to maintain. Wheels can be added to the legs of the salad table making it portable and can takes up little space on your patio or deck. The 3 1/2-inch depth is perfect for salad greens and other shallow-rooted plants. There are very few weeds, you'll see few pests and because the bench stands waist high, harvesting your greens is easy on the back.


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Here is the assembled bench (without the additional support boards underneath. We added those later). We decided to paint the bench.
Here is the assembled bench (without the additional support boards underneath. We added those later). We decided to paint the bench. | Source

Constructing Your Salad Bench

To build a salad table that's 33 inches wide by 58 inches long, you will need the following tools and materials:

  • Untreated framing lumber: two 10-foot-long two-by-fours and two 12-foot-long two-by-fours
  • 2 1/2-inch galvanized deck screws
  • 3/8-inch staples
  • 1 pound of 1-inch roofing nails
  • 3-by-5-foot roll of aluminum window screening
  • 3-by-5-foot roll of 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth (galvanized wire mesh; comes in a roll)
  • Handsaw
  • Hammer
  • Tape measure
  • Square
  • Tin snips
  • Staple gun
  • Drill
  • wood putty to fill screw holes for a more polished look
  • paint, if you are going to paint your bench


1. Make the frame by taking two 58-inch two-by-fours and attaching them to two 30-inch two-by-fours with galvanized screws. The two interior cross pieces are attached 18 3/4-inches from each end of the long piece, making three equal sections.

2. Staple window screen on the outside bottom of the frame.

3. Center the hardware cloth over the window screen; pull it taut and staple to the frame bottom.

4. Nail roofing nails around the frame for support.

5. For additional support, you may choose to screw a few scrap boards to the underside of the screen. Over time, the weight of the soil will create a slight bow in the screen.

This is soil sold at our local feed store.
This is soil sold at our local feed store. | Source

Adding Soil

The first year we planted lettuce in our lettuce bench we had extra soil from our raised bed gardens that we purchased from this wonderful farmer in Vermont. The soil was nearly black in color with so much rich composted materials, we thought that it would work perfectly in our lettuce bench. We were wrong. The lettuce grew abundantly, but the soil was far too dense and we would need to 'fluff' it occasionally so that the lettuce roots could breath more freely.

This year, we opted for an organic potting blend that is much lighter. We filled each of the three compartments to the top (the soil will settle a bit) and then we were ready to plant.

[it has been a few weeks now since we planted this years salad greens and it is clear that this was a wiser choice for the soil. The plants are growing hardier than ever]

Be sure to fill each compartment with soil to the top. The soil will settle slightly over time.
Be sure to fill each compartment with soil to the top. The soil will settle slightly over time. | Source

Seeds or Plants.........

For us, the choice was a simple one. At our local feed store, they sell a variety of lettuce plants. Rather than wait for the seeds to sprout and then mature, we would enjoy our lettuce in a few short days.

If you decide that you would like to plant seeds, here are a few quick tips:

Begin by taking the edge of a ruler and make shallow furrows in the growing medium. They should be about 4 inches apart. Carefully sow the seeds so they are about 1 to 2 inches apart. This method is the same method you'd use to plant radishes or carrots. Lightly cover the seeds and press down gently. Again, like radishes and carrots, be prepared to thin plants after they come up so that they are 1 to 2 inches apart and aren't overly crowded.

Harvesting......

If you are growing lettuce, this bench size will provide you with plenty of salad. I had read that I could expect to harvest one to two pounds of salad at each cutting. From my personal experience, I can tell you that I very rarely have needed to buy lettuce during the growing season and we eat a salad every evening for dinner.

When you are ready, simple clip the lettuce leaf near the base of the plant. The plant will continue to re-grow and soon, you will be able to clip more greens.

Building TRAYS for your salad bench is another option. Trays can be inserted into the table for a variety of purposes.
Building TRAYS for your salad bench is another option. Trays can be inserted into the table for a variety of purposes. | Source

Individual Salad Trays

We considered building individual salad trays when we built our lettuce bench, but opted not to. I think that the individual trays are a great idea, especially if you intend on starting your lettuce table from seed. You could start earlier in the season and then when the weather warmed, you could insert the trays into your table.

If you decide to build trays, you can use the same materials as the salad bench. You could also use scrap wood or perhaps wood scavenged from a wooden pallet. Measure and cut your boards so that they slide easily into each table section. You will need to make three trays. Inexpensive drawer pulls can be screwed into the top of the tray at each end making it easier to remove the tray from the table when you wish to.

Choosing your lettuce plants..........

We like a variety of colors and textures in our salads, so we chose three different lettuces for our bench. We couldn't resist the Ithaca, but we ultimately didn't have enough room to plant it in our salad bench.
We like a variety of colors and textures in our salads, so we chose three different lettuces for our bench. We couldn't resist the Ithaca, but we ultimately didn't have enough room to plant it in our salad bench. | Source
Before you begin to plant, decide where you want your lettuces to be.
Before you begin to plant, decide where you want your lettuces to be. | Source
Once you've decide which plants will go in each compartment, remove them from the packaging and begin planting.
Once you've decide which plants will go in each compartment, remove them from the packaging and begin planting. | Source
Another great way to utilize your bench is to grow strawberries. You could also plant a combination of things.
Another great way to utilize your bench is to grow strawberries. You could also plant a combination of things. | Source
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It was recommended that we keep our salad bench in full sun from April through mid-June. Later, we were encouraged to move the bench to a partly shadier location so the lettuce wouldn't burn. The summer heat can be too much for these plants. However, the table does get heavy once planted and we had no desire to move it to any other location. During the sunniest days of summer, the lettuce would, in fact, wilt from the overbearing heat, but at dusk we would give the bench ample water and a bit of compost tea from time to time and the lettuce would perk back up come morning.

Because our salad bench has given us such an abundance of salad greens, we're considering growing lettuce throughout the winter months, as well. We will need to make a few alterations, but I'm hopeful that we can make it work. I was recently introduced to this winter gardening book. I haven't looked at it yet, but I will certainly consult the author for any tips that she can offer. Check it out:

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live

season-defying techniques where short summers and low levels of winter sunlight create the ultimate challenge

 
As you can see, we planted about 25 plants in our bench. Within a few days, each compartment will be quite full.
As you can see, we planted about 25 plants in our bench. Within a few days, each compartment will be quite full. | Source
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Insects can be good for your garden.

Every garden attracts bugs, but not all insects are bad. It's best to learn the difference between those that'll hard or distort your plants and the others that will help your garden to thrive.

It is helpful to plant things like dill, cilantro and coriander to attract more beneficial insects. Planting certain crops together also helps them grow by warding off the bugs that may be attracted to one but not the other.

There are several ways to rid your garden of damaging critters without using harsh chemicals that you really don't want on your food.

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Your garden need not be enormous.

Just the thought of creating a garden gets people excited which leads them to the creation of a garden that is too large to manage. Building a bench like this is a good way to grow some of your food without becoming overwhelmed.

Devoting an entire garden to herbs and vegetables may seem like a great idea until the weeds start pushing through or when you forget to water your plants during the week and find them drooped over and panting for moisture on Saturday. Try to keep things simple if you don't have the time to have a big garden.

Plant near your home for easy access and only plant enough to treat yourself to a few home-grown meals.

Within a very short time, our lettuce plants have doubled in size.
Within a very short time, our lettuce plants have doubled in size. | Source
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Save time and buy seedlings

Sure it may sound romantic planting a garden from seed and there are many people that do, but you may not have the experience or the time so don't set yourself up for failure.

Rather than devote your efforts to growing testy seeds that may not germinate, you could purchase plant seedlings, certainly the first year year you grow a garden, especially lettuce.

Seedlings generally come in cell packs of 12 or 24; they are a great value. Plant and water your seedlings immediately and before you know it, you'll be mixing your first salad!

Ready to make a nice mixed salad.
Ready to make a nice mixed salad. | Source

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Are you planning on building a lettuce bench this summer? 15 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I guess you answered my question right at the end. I was wondering how this could possibly work during the late fall and winter months. It seems to me the cold weather would make it impossible to grow lettuce then....so if I'm missing something I hope you add on once you have looked into it.

Great hub; I have never seen a lettuce table and will now consider building one for next year.


handymanbill profile image

handymanbill 4 years ago from western pennsylvania

What a great Idea. I really love this. I am already thinking of ways to use this. A lot of great ides.


lj gonya profile image

lj gonya 4 years ago

This is terrific. We have a shop full of spare boards that would be perfect for this project! Thanks for sharing.


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire Author

Hi billybuc, This is one of the best garden 'things' my husband and I have ever built! We love it. As I mentioned, we are trying to figure out how to prolong the lettuce season (better yet, grow throughout the winter) and when we do, I shall pass that information along-certainly. I'm in New Hampshire so the growing season is short here. I'm going to do a bit of research and investigate a few of the authors that say they know how to grow in winter weather. I hope that you built your self a bench.

Best Regards,


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire Author

Hello handymanbill. Wonderful. So pleased that you enjoyed this hub. Do let me know what you ultimately planted in your 'bench'.

I think my husband and I may build another (a bit smaller, due to the lack of space) so that we can grow strawberries. We have some difficulty growing berries in the garden beds because of the wild life ;)

Best Regards,


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire Author

Hi li gonya. Perfect! Great way to use up some scrap wood. This can be as simple or as "fancy" as you decide to build it-one of the things that I like about this project.

Good luck....send along some pictures.

Best Regards,


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 4 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

I love this idea. Great hub. tweeted, liked, Pinned.


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire Author

Hi Patsybell! WOW! Tweeted, Liked AND Pinned? Thank You, kindly! We are still enjoying beautiful salads even in this sticky heat of the New Hampshire summer. I recently pulled a few articles pertaining to strawberry growing. I'm either going to construct a second bench, or plant one section with strawberries next year. I hope you give your own a try sometime. I appreciate you stopping by and reading my hub. Best Regards,


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 4 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

I think Pinterest really benefits our Hubs.


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire Author

agreed! thanks, again, Patsybell.


LetitiaFT profile image

LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

What a nifty idea, and gorgeous too. Bookmarked and voted up and useful. Thanks.


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire Author

Hi Letitia....and delicious! Thank you for stopping by.Thank you, also, for all the votes-much appreciated.

Best Regards,


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Up, Useful, and Interesting. I'm bookmarking this. I might try it next summer. Thanks.


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 3 years ago from New Hamphire Author

B. Leekley, I hope that you do. We LOVE our lettuce bench.


Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain 2 years ago from Central Florida

I love this. Since I have some railing-high planters on our deck, I'll try growing lettuce in those.

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