Growing Salad Crops

Summary: Find out about the most popular salad crops and how and where to successfully grow each of them to ensure you get the best crop possible

Growing your own salad is easy, and we all know that food straight from the garden tastes that much better! See our quick guide to growing salad crops to help you get the best from your salad.

Lettuce

There are tons of options when it comes to growing this salad staple. You can start off growing indoors for an extra early crop, or go straight for growing outside. There are loads of different varieties to go for from cut-and-come-again leaves to traditional lettuces that need to be allowed to mature before the whole thing is picked.

Make sure you sow small amounts of lettuce at a time, but make several consecutive sowings. This will ensure you don’t have a glut all at once that you can’t use up.

Cut-and-come-again leaves are the easiest to grow, and the best way to get really fresh salad – you can just snip off as much as you want at a time. Mixed leaf seed packs are usually available, so you get a nice variety of leaves.

Sow thinly in short rows about 30cm (12”) apart, or wherever you have a bit of space. Lettuces grow well in containers and window boxes, so if you’re short on ground space, try growing in pots. You’ll need to thin them out once they get to around 2cm (1”) tall, to give them enough space to grow. 

Tomatoes

See our page on How to Grow Tomatoes.

Cucumber

You can grow cucumbers outside in Britain, but they will do better under glass. Grow bags are perfect for growing cucumbers, as they need nutrient-rich soil. If you are growing from seed, sow a few seeds in mid-spring, then plant out around six weeks later when they reach a decent size. You can get two plants in a growbag. Most varieties of cucumber require a framework or strings to grow up, as they are climbing plants. Remove side-shoots as they grow to encourage fruiting.

You will need to keep a close eye on the plants, and remove male flowers as soon as you see them (these are the ones that don’t have a tiny cucumber growing behind the flower). If the female flowers become pollinated it can make the cucumber taste very bitter.

Radish

Radishes are really easy and are a good crop to grow with children. They can be sown in rows, interspersed with lettuces if you like, or scattered in a block if you’re short on space. As with lettuce, you should sow a small amount at a time, but keep sowing consecutively every couple of weeks for a supply throughout summer.

They will do best in a sunny, sheltered spot. Spread the seed thinly in shallow drills in damp soil, around 10-15cm (4”-6”) apart. Thin out so that they are about 3cm (1”) apart to give the roots space to grow.

Celery

Traditionally a difficult crop to grow, celery is becoming more popular as self-blanching and green varieties are available, meaning that you don’t need to grow it in a trench and bank it up.

Grow from seed in March/April, or buy young plants to plant out in May or June. Ideally, you need to allow about 30cm (1ft) between plants to give them plenty of space to grow. When planting out young plants, put them in the ground up to the crown. Make sure you keep the plants watered in dry periods – celery is mostly water, and will be tough and stringy if not watered enough.

Salad Onions

Also known as spring onions, bunching onions and scallions, salad onions give flavour and interest to a salad. Sow thinly in short drills every 4 weeks for consecutive growing, and thin out when they are about 5cm (2”) high, to 3cm (1”) apart.

Bell Peppers

Sweet bell peppers are easy to grow and a great salad addition for flavour, colour and texture. They are similar to tomatoes to grow, and while they can be grown outdoors they will do better in a greenhouse or on a sunny window sill. They are very well suited to growing in pots, or can be grown in growbags.

Pick the green peppers when they reach a good size, or leave on the plants until they turn red or yellow (their colour can depend on what variety you have). Red and yellow peppers have a sweeter taste to them.

Flowers

Lots of flower petals are edible, and will lend some lovely colour to a salad. Nasturtiums are a great salad flower – both the petals and leaves can be used to add a peppery flavour to salads. Borage has a taste reminiscent of cucumber, but make sure you pop the petals out of their hairy sepals. The pink or scarlet petals of bergamot add a lovely splash of colour. Dainty little violet flowers look very pretty, or use pansies if you want to add more colour.

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