Monday, 13 June 2011

Succulent Salad all Summer

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Salads are popular for a reason - they taste good, are good for you and they are easy to grow. But as a fast growing crop, most salad fixin's can cause a little consternation in the garden by bolting or getting bitter in the heat. Fall and spring salads are a little more forgiving due to less dramatic weather in those seasons.

To ensure a continuous supply of salad throughout the season, succession plant, which means you start and plant future salads every few weeks throughout the growing season.

For our family of three we shoot for about 24 - 30 lettuce plants in our salad beds plus miscellaneous greens like mizuna, bok choy, celery, spinach, arugula, kale, chard etc. Plant what you want to eat, remembering that some greens grow better and subsequently taste better in the cooler weather. Mustards and arugula can get hot and bitter, and likewise kale in the summer can leave you wondering why you just didn't wait until cooler weather to harvest it. It just depends on your growing conditions.

After the first planting of salad in the spring, we don't plan salad beds per se, when a space opens up in the garden or greenhouse and we have plants ready to plant, we stick plants in. Between tomatoes, or other large plants, basically anywhere we have an opening. The secret to success with succession planting is to always have plants growing somewhere that are in different stages of growth. When the first salad bed shown above reaches senescence, we don't have to feel bad about pulling out the plants and feeding them to the chickens because we have other salad plants already growing and reaching the harvest stage.

Some tips:

For summer sowing and growing, look for varieties that do well in the heat. Romaine lettuce is especially heat tolerant and a welcome summer treat. Likewise for cold weather growing, look for cold tolerant varieties while perusing seed catalogs.

Sow seeds about every three weeks for a continuous supply of salad plants. If you have extra plants due to varying rates of growth in the garden, your friends will always be happy to get a gift of a few plants. And if that doesn't work, I give my extra plants to our hens.

To make your salad bed a little longer-lived, pick a few leaves from each plant for your salad instead of harvesting the entire plant, that sends the message to the plant to keep growing leaves instead of bolting and sending up a flower stalk. Of course, this only works for a short while as all plants live to make seed. We just can intervene a little and slow the process down.

Happy Planting!