Grow vegetables for a fresh ‘garden salad’
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Feature Article - posted Thu., May. 19, 2011
Even if space is limited in your yard, you can still grow the ingredients for a delicious, fresh, healthful salad. By interplanting and using space-saving devices, an area as small as 3 by 10 feet can be transformed into a veritable array of tasty salad fixings. Plant radishes among lettuce, train cucumbers to grow up a trellis, and stake early maturing cherry or salad-type tomatoes for lots of flavorful fruit.
Careful planning before planting will go a long way towards maximizing both space efficiency and plant production. Select varieties that are compact in growth habit if space is limiting, and note their dates to maturity. Keep in mind that planting your radishes, lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes all on the same day won’t guarantee they will all be sharing the same salad bowl. The radishes will be ready in three weeks, the lettuce four to six, the cucumbers six to eight, and the tomatoes, depending on the age of your transplant, maybe eight weeks or more.
As with any vegetable garden, success depends on soil conditions, ample sunlight and water, and quality seed. If the amount of sunlight is a limiting factor, stick to lettuce and other greens that will grow even in partially-shaded conditions. Soils should be moderately fertile with adequate supplies of organic matter and at a pH around 6.4. Supplemental water may be necessary during dry periods and when starting seeds and setting in transplants.
Quite a number of tasty and often colorful lettuce varieties are readily grown in home gardens. Leaf lettuce is easier to grow than romaine, which is easier to grow than head lettuce. It matures quite rapidly. Butterhead types such as Bibb, Tom Thumb and Buttercrunch have a solid center surrounded by loose leaves rich in flavor and buttery in texture.
Looseleaf lettuces grow as bunches of curly leaves and are great for beginning gardeners. Some common varieties include Black Seeded Simpson, Slo Bolt and Salad Bowl. Red leaf varieties like Lollo Rossa and Red Sails form attractive heat-resistant plants. Baby Oak is a miniature lettuce with green leaves resembling oak leaves. Lettuce is a cool season crop which should be sown at two-week intervals beginning in April. Cover the seed with a scant quarter inch of soil and thin the young plants to 4 or 8 inches apart. Since lettuce has a tendency to bolt or form seeds, select varieties labeled “slow to bolt,” as the weather warms, or avoid growing lettuce during the heat of summer and start planting again around Labor Day.
Radishes can be sown directly into the ground as soon as the soil can be worked, until about June. Successive plantings extend the harvest. Aside from the most popular red varieties like Cherry Belle, there are lovely pastel mixtures as well with white, pink and purple radishes to add a colorful touch to any meal.
For small spaces, either select compact determinate patio type tomatoes that mature at a modest size or grow indeterminate varieties, like Gardener’s Delight, and train them upright to a heavy duty stake. Pinch out bottom suckers and tie the plant to keep it from flopping over and taking up too much room. Cucumbers are planted after the danger of frost has passed. To save space, grow compact cultivars like Spacemaster or Picklebush, or train regular varieties to grow up a cucumber ladder or trellis. Onions do not require much space – only about 3 square inches per bulb. For green onions, try the bunching varieties.
A small salad garden does not require much time or much work and after that first homegrown salad, you will agree it was worth the effort. If you have questions about growing vegetables or on other home or garden related items, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (toll-free) at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu or get in touch with your local Cooperative Extension Center.