Fresh salad greens plucked straight from the earth are superior in taste to almost any you can buy. They are so easy to produce and require such little space that they could be a feature of just about every home. Along with the wide variety of greens at your disposal, try growing a host of sprouts and edible flowers to enliven salads with their spring-fresh flavours. And you don’t have to have a large garden – all you need is a small patch of soil, a window box or a courtyard corner to start cultivating your own tasty leaves, sprouts and petals. Pick them as close to serving as possible to give your salads the fullest flavour.
Sow your own salad
Grow salad greens from seed and you’ll be able to harvest the leaves in six weeks’ time. Sow seeds in seed-raising trays or straight into the garden. To sow in trays, fill trays with moist seed-raising mix then lightly press the mix down and sow the seeds thinly. Sieve a fine layer of soil over seeds. Lightly press the soil down and water gently. Leave in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. After germination, when each seedling has grown three small leaves, use a dibbler (a gardening tool for making small holes) to ease out seedlings and plant them, either directly into the garden or in a large tub or trough on your balcony or patio. They need a sunny position and regular watering with a liquid feed that is high in nitrogen. As they grow, pick the outer leaves as you need them; this will encourage fresh leaves to grow from the centre. Leaf crops will last up to six months in the garden, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy healthy and flavoursome leaves all summer long.
Baby spinach (Spinacia oleracea) doesn’t need to be cooked before eating. Pick the outer leaves and the plant will produce for up to six months.
Green coral lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a loose-leaf lettuce with curly, bright green leaves. It grows well from seedlings.
Radicchio or red-leaf chicory (Cichorium intybus) has a strong, distinctive flavour. Pick radicchio leaves as required or cut the head 2-3cm above the ground. The crown will usually resprout to form a new head.
Cos ruby lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a large lettuce with long, crisp leaves. Leaves are quite firm with strong mid-ribs. Cos lettuce takes longer to mature than other varieties.
Baby beetroot leaves (Beta vulgaris) have rich red stems and purple leaves, giving your salads a splash of colour.
Mignonette lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a soft-leafed lettuce, high in folates.
Butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa) has soft, smooth leaves with a buttery texture and mild flavour. If left to mature it will form a beautiful buttery heart.
Endive (Cichorium endivia) has a slightly bitter taste. It doesn’t store well so pick these leaves just before you need them.
Red coral lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is beautifully coloured, frilly and delicious.