How to grow a summer salad garden

Summer and salads go hand in hand. It’s just a pity those tired supermarket leaves don’t hit the mark with colour, flavour and crunch. This season, ditch the disappointment by growing your own salad garden. It’s so easy, you’ll wish you’d started years ago!

Fast feeders

Salad veges taste best if they’re grown quickly so choose loose, humus-laden compost as your growing medium. Commercial compost can be pricey but because salad greens are shallow rooted, a 20cm layer is all you need. Fork it into the ground along with some aged animal manure or a sprinkling of all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, and you’re good to go. Feed your seedlings weekly with a liquid manure for the first fortnight.

Stuck for space?

We don’t all have space for a backyard garden, but the good news is that salad veges will grow just as happily in balcony containers – some of which are completely free! Ask at the seafood counter of your local supermarket for polystyrene fish boxes. Usually biffed in the skip, they are ideal as planters when you make a few holes in their base.

Keep your cool

As the season hots up in the garden, tender vegetables begin to wilt. In warmer parts of the country, pop shadecloth over your plants during the hottest part of the day. Thrifty gardeners may choose bracken fronds instead – they can be pushed into the ground umbrella-style to provide a gentle, dappled light.

When to water

A salad garden should be damp but not wet. To avoid fungus, water in the early morning so the leaves dry out as the day warms up. Lock in the moisture with a layer of mulch such as pea straw or freebie pine needles.

Seeds or seedlings?

With a few exceptions, it pays to forget the seeds and buy in seedlings. Seedlings give you a head start and almost always turn out to be no more expensive than if you’d raised your own. Look for ‘mixed punnets’ which offer several varieties of salad seedlings in the one container.

Crunch and colour

The days of iceberg-lettuce-only salads are long gone. For extra crunch, plant seedlings of spinach, spring onion, colourful open-leaf lettuce and orach (a super-fast grower). Sow the seed of kale, rocket, silverbeet and beetroot, and harvest the leaves when they are still just 3-4cm long. When the heat arrives, swap the spinach (which bolts in hot conditions) for tasty amaranth.

Half the pleasure of a salad is colour so pop in seedlings of marigold, borage, and Viola tricolour (heartsease). These pretty little edible flowers scattered though a bowl of leaves bring a touch of class to the table.

Tangy twists

Add a flavour punch to your salad by planting seedlings of Asian mustard, lemony sorrel and perennial arugula (rocket). Sow herbs seed for an international twist: Greek dill, French chervil, Italian basil and Indian fenugreek.

Whatever salad ingredients you grow this summer, have fun in the garden and enjoy flavour, colour and crunch that you’ll never find in a supermarket!