Grow Summer Salad Ingredients

Cool, crispy and crunchy! That’s the food that most appeals as we move towards the hottest days of summer. How prepared is your food garden to provide those cooling summer salads?

If you haven’t yet planted a summer salad garden, now is the time. Here are some crops you can get into your garden to have a good supply of salad ingredients all season long. Remember to only plant the crops that you and your family will use.

Lettuce is best as a cool-season crop but there are more heat-tolerant varieties for summer. These are the crisp head lettuces (‘Iceberg’ and ‘Saladin’), ‘Cos’ lettuces and the tougher red-leaf lettuces like ‘Lollo Rossa’. The best position is morning sun (up to noon) with afternoon shade. In very hot regions wait until March to plant an autumn crop. Plant in fertile soil that drains well, water frequently, and feed monthly with a liquid fertiliser.

Baby spinach varieties produce small, tasty leaves that are a delicious alternative to lettuce. Leaves can be picked within 35 – 40 days of sowing. Their flavour is more delicate than mature spinach. Sow every two weeks for an extended supply. Plant in well-composted, fertile soil.

Leafy herb greens such as basil, rocket, sorrel, dill, coriander and chives can all be sown from seed. The slightly sour flavour of sorrel leaves is particularly good in salads. Dill and basil add texture and a light anise flavour, while rocket is peppery.

Coriander leaves have a pungent taste that doesn’t appeal to everyone. All have the same growing conditions: full sun, well-composted soil that drains well, a liquid feed once a month and regular watering without overdoing it.

Micro-greens are a combination of zesty, peppery leaves or a mix of loose-leaf lettuce varieties. Sow thickly in trays and grow in a sunny spot close to the kitchen door. Seeds germinate within 7 – 14 days and are ready for picking within 30 days as baby leaves. Sow a batch every two weeks for a continuous supply.

Cucumber is the mainstay of the salad bowl, especially in the hotter months. Train plants up a trellis, making sure they receive plenty of sunshine. ‘Patio Snacker’ is a short, vining plant for pots. Plant in fertile, well-composted soil and water frequently. For good quality fruit, control fruit fly by spraying preventatively once a week with an organic insecticide like Ludwig’s Insect Spray.

Beta alpha cucumbers (with shorter fruit) are ready to harvest after 30 – 45 days from transplanting, when they are 12 – 15cm long.

Tomatoes can be sown from September to January and there are patio varieties that are available as young, established plants. The salad varieties are those with a firm flesh and fewer pips (usually oblong fruit), as well as baby tomatoes. For good quality and a good yield, water regularly and follow a regular pest control programme to prevent white fly, using Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide or Ludwig’s Insect Spray. Watch out for red spider mite during the very hot months, which infests the underside of the leaves. This should not occur if plants are watered regularly. Fertilising is only necessary when the plants start to flower.

Beetroot is a vegetable that can do double duty for summer salads. The tops are best harvested when they are young, having a lighter flavour than spinach. The roots can be harvested as baby beet (good for roasting) or allowed to grow to full size. Light, well-drained soil suits beetroot best (for good-sized roots) but if the soil is heavy then growing beetroot just for the tops is a good alternative, and plants can be planted closer together.

Sweet peppers are a premium vegetables for summer salads but are more affordable if home grown. They are a long crop if grown from seed, but there are early producing pot peppers with mini red and yellow fruit. Peppers need aerated soil that drains well. For bushy plants, remove early flowers on plants that are less than 40cm high. Feed with a potassium-rich fertiliser. Prevent thrips and aphids by spraying with Ludwig’s Insect Spray before the flowers are set.

Spring onions are the easiest of all the onions to grow. Varieties like ‘White Lisbon’ can be sown all year round in frost-free areas. Seeds are sown directly into the ground and take 2 – 3 weeks to germinate. Don’t overwater once the seedlings are up. Once the plants are large enough (60 days onwards) you can start pulling them up. Take 4 – 5 out of the clump that was harvested and replant them about 7cm apart.

Green bush beans grow and produce very quickly. Sow seeds close together so that the plants support each other. Beans benefit from a 5cm layer of mulch and should always be moist. This is particularly important when flowering and the fruit is setting. For salad, beans should be young and tender. Harvest by snipping off the beans with kitchen scissors.

The Gardener