How to Grow Your Own Salad Garden
If you have just a patio and a few containers, you can plant your own salad garden. A small yard or deck area works well too. When I think salads, I think about lettuce, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, and spinach. All of these can be grown in containers and if you have a garden you'll be able to grow even more.
I like an organic method of gardening. Don't use chemical fertilizers or insecticides unless absolutely necessary. Remember you are going to eat these vegetables.
First, you need to decide what you would like to have in your salads. Most salads contain lettuce and there are 4 types to choose from, but so many varieties that it may confuse you. Included are loose-leaf, butterheads, Cos (Romaine), and crisp heading types.
Loose-leaf types are just as the name describes. You cut the lettuce and each leaf is individual. These pieces aren't crisp like an iceberg and don't store long, but will grow quickly and you can succession plant them all season long for a supply to harvest all summer if planted properly. I recommend about every 2 weeks.
Butterheads make tiny small heads that aren't quite as crisp as as your heading types, but still have some crunch. These are easy to grow and I enjoy them in a salad. They also mature quicker than the heading lettuces. If you'd like them for salads all summer long these can also be succession planted.
Cos or Romaine Lettuce - I think everyone has tried Romaine lettuce at one time or another. Many people prefer this type. It takes a longer to mature than the butterhead types and the looseleaf, but if you enjoy this lettuce, be sure to grow it.
Crisp Heading Types - Iceberg lettuce is the type we usually find in the stores. This lettuce is nice and crunchy, but it isn't very nutritious, because it is low in vitamins and minerals and has very little fiber. Iceberg lettuce takes longer to grow and is a little more difficult. A variety you might like to try is Tom Thumb. It matures much quicker and each head makes a nice salad.
Lettuce likes cool weather. Plant it early in the spring. It can be grown through the entire summer if it is done properly. Lettuce that is left standing too long will become bitter and is no longer edible. Throw it on the compost pile when it gets this old. To plant lettuce in the summer, Keep it in a protected spot, so it doesn't get the hot sun. A shady spot is best. Be sure and make a fall planting, because it will enjoy the cool days.
You want to have a rich soil for the lettuce, so it grows quickly. Quick growth helps it from becoming bitter. If planting in the garden, make sure that the soil is worked at least 1 to 2 feet deep.
Be sure to pick the lettuce before it bolts. It is finished once it starts seeding.
How to Grow Your Own Salad - Podchef, Youtube
Sweet peppers and hot peppers are grown in the same way. These aren't cold hardy and will need to be planted after the lettuce and radishes. There are many varieties to choose from and it is up to you to choose the one you would like.
Peppers need to be planted after the last frost date for your area and 2 weeks later can be even better. They grow best when the days are 70 to 75 degrees or warmer. Peppers can be started indoors from seed or purchased as plants from your local greenhouse. If you are new to gardening, the easiest way is to purchase the plants.
Peppers like a light soil without a lot of nitrogen. One year I dug the hole for the pepper plant and I ended up with 6 feet tall plants and no peppers. The nitrogen made the plant grow so well it didn't think it need to reproduce.
Pepper plants should be at least 5-6 inches tall when planting. Plant 1 to 2 feet apart with rows about 2 or 3 feet apart. Keep new plants watered often to give them a good start.
If you decide to plant the plants in containers they should have about 3 gallons of soil per plant. You can try the upside down containers that they use for tomatoes, but I've heard the yield isn't as good with these, but it will work to use the extra large buckets from the hardware store. Just use an ice pick or something similar to make holes in the bottom for drainage.
The peppers will be ready much later than the lettuce and radishes. If you'd like to have both together, replant the lettuce and radishes every few weeks in a shaded spot.
Radishes are easy to grow. You can plant them almost anywhere as long as they get plenty of sun. Plant the radishes and lettuce at about the same time.
Work the soil about a foot deep. Plant the seeds about 1 1/2" deep for small red radishes and deeper for the longer ones. The only problems you may have with radishes are they split if you don't pick them in time and you can have a problem with radish maggot. If you have problems with wormy radishes, plant again later. This seems to be a problem with just the early radishes.
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Spinach is another cool weather vegetable. It is packed with nutrition, so it is good to mix with lettuce leaves or to use as the main ingredient in a salad.
Plant the spinach in the Spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Spinach germinates at about 50 degrees, so once the temperature reaches this level, it is a good time to plant. Look for varieties that can tolerate heat and it can be grown for a longer period of time. Spinach likes full sun in the cooler months and partial shade in the warmer months.
Spinach likes fertile soil, so pick a fertile spot or add in some composted manure or rotted compost from the compost pile. The bagged cow manure can be easily purchased at most discount stores or your local gardening center. Plant the seeds about 1/2" deep. Sow more seeds about every 2 weeks until the temperatures start getting too hot. You can start sowing the seed again in the Fall when the temperatures start cooling off.
Thin the plants when they start getting about 3 to 4" tall. Thin to about 6" apart. You can trim them whenever you'd like to make a salad. Once they start forming a flower head the plant if fully mature. You'll need to pick the entire thing and use some for cooked spinach.
Spinach can also be planted in a pot or a flower box. Just keep watered and fertilize often if you do.
There are so many varieties of tomatoes available that it can be hard to choose which ones are best. For salads, the cherry tomatoes ripen sooner. Buying a disease resistant variety is a good idea and make sure it is one recommended for your planting zone.
Tomatoes like hot weather and can't be planted until all danger of frost is past. If you live in a northern area, you will probably want to start with plants from the greenhouse. Cherry tomatoes often ripen in time from seed, but you will get your tomatoes much later.
Water the plants before transplanting. A trick when planting is to remove all but the top 4 or 5 branches of the plant and cover the rest of the stem with dirt by digging a trench and laying the plant sideways. The plant will develop extra roots and you will have a large plant covered with fruit at harvest. Place some water in the trench and cover with soil. Place a tomato cage over the plant once it reaches about a foot, to keep it growing upright. Don't wait too long to get the tomato cage placed as it can be difficult once the plant gets larger. Keep the tomato plant watered well throughout the season.
The 5 gallon buckets from the hardware store work well for tomatoes if you'd like to plant in containers. If you'd like something more decorative, pots this large can also be purchased, but can be pricey.
You may have problems with tomato worms. The moth that lays the eggs that produce the worm is out at night and especially likes patio lights. In the garden, I have little trouble with the worms, but if I keep planters on the deck, I need to watch for them. I prefer an organic way to get rid of the worms. They can be hard to see, so watch your leaves. If something has been eating them, it is probably tomato worms. Look closely in the areas where there is damage and you will find one or several. These worms can get big and eat a plant quickly. Use a fork or similar object and knock the worm off the plant and squish it with your shoe or something else. Some people use gloves and a can, but I can't stand even touching them with a glove. Once you've had tomato worms, you need to check often. Another sign that you have a problem is the green droppings that they leave.
Just a couple of plants will keep you in tomatoes all season long.