After a long winter of eating root vegetables and brassicas I find by spring my body and palate are craving lighter, fresher foods. The longer days and warmer weather (well maybe at some point!) bring about a desire to eat salads. Not some bag of soggy salad leaves lurking in the bottom of the fridge or the tasteless but crunchy iceberg, no I want something colourful, interesting and fresh but most importantly tasty.
I’ve grown salad leaves for quite a while now, even before we had our own garden. You can quite successfully grow enough salad leaves for two from some long plastic window box style troughs. Even now, with the allotment, I still use this method to keep some lettuce close to the house for quick pickings.
I was, initially, reluctant to grow salad at the allotment, worried that slugs would prove to be too much of a problem. However, a desire to grow some of the bigger ‘romaine’ and ‘hearting’ type lettuces led me to give it a go. Well, I’m so pleased with the results. I haven’t bought any lettuce for a good 6 weeks now and despite the tremendous amount of rain we’ve had, giving us perfect sluggy conditions my lettuce have been a great success. A great deal of this is thanks to the local bird population that seem to be scouring my allotment beds in the search for anything slimy.
So far, I’ve grown ‘Dazzle’ from the Thompson and Morgan ‘Kew Garden’ range. It is a particularly attractive lettuce, a mini romaine type with leaves that are a beautiful apple-green colour merging into burgundy. It produces a heart of pale green leaves if left to heart-up but I like to pick this, as well as my other hearting lettuces, by the leaf rather than the whole plant. Picking from the outside and leaving several smaller central leaves the plant will continue to grow, giving you a much longer picking period. Because this variety is only a ‘mini’ type it is perfect for containers or grow bags. I am also growing ‘Rubens’, a coppery-red cos lettuce that looks so good. ‘Freckles’ is another looker, an heirloom variety that has glossy green leaves splattered with speckles of burgundy which is apparently slow to bolt, although there has been little danger of that so far this year.
For some contrast on the plate I have also grown the all-green ‘Lobjoits’ another cos type lettuce that has a good crunch. Again I pick this like a cut and come again salad, removing just a few outer leaves at a time.
To add some further interest I love to add the softer salad leaves such as salad bowl and pea shoots. I have one big pot outside my front door with peas in it, every couple of days I can harvest a few shoots. The plants will continue to send out shoots until into mid July when the change in day length back to shorter days (boo) means they change from putting on leafy growth to trying to fruit. My plants, which will have been grazed over and not achieved much height, will then just be composted but in the meantime they are adding a lovely pea flavour to my salads and sandwiches.
Russian red kale is a great plant. Colourful, with a stronger flavour than lettuce leaves, if picked when young it adds another dimension to your salad. I have a pot of this which I can pick over twice a week and the bonus is that any leaves that get too big for salads can be lightly steamed like spinach.
Finally, a salad wouldn’t be a salad without a few herbs. At the moment this includes a few basil leaves, chives and the colourful addition of chive flowers. As the summer progresses I will resow in an attempt to keep us supplied. I’ve got a second batch with a few additons such as ‘Catalonga verde’ on the way and I’ll introduce others such as rocket and mizuna later in the summer so that they don’t bolt in the heatwave summer that is just around the corner!!!
Salads needn’t be boring after-thoughts and are one of the simplest and cheapest of all the edibles you can grow.