This article concerns the growing of salad leave mixes in containers. In a previous post I touched upon how to grow salad leaves in containers, but now I want to go in this important topic in greater detail in what varieties can be grown, and how to make your own salad seed mixes.
In this way, you can mix and grow your own salad leaves that you like and avoid those that you prefer not to eat. No more picking out leaves that you do not like from store bought plastic bags of young salad leaves.
I will go into the depth of what salad leaves that can be grown in containers, how to grow them, when to pick and finally how to make a mix of leaves to your own preference.
WHY YOU SHOULD GROW YOUR OWN?
When you get hungry and you have a hankering for something light, you tend to go to the supermarket and buy pre-filled plastic bags full of mixed baby leaves to make a delicious meal. This comes in a variety of forms from peppery mixes, Italian mixes, etc. This not only use single-use plastics, which is bad for the environment but often comes in a form that is not to everybody’s taste. There is a way around this for the home gardener and that is to grow your own.
For a beginner growing your own salad leaves is easy and does not require much in the way of material. It is ideal to grow in containers as you will not be constantly battling slug and snail or be worried about weeds taking over your garden.
The mixes sold by seed companies are normally based on ‘Cut and come again’ leaves, which means that the first crop of leaves can be cut a few weeks after sowing. They will then grow again and can provide a second, third or fourth crop, before becoming exhausted. This multi-cropping does not occur for all varieties of salad leaves, so be warned you cannot be expected to treat them alike.
THIS COULD LEAD TO PROBLEMS
This leads to a major problem as some varieties grow more vigorously than others, whilst certain crops will not produce a viable second crop. The result would be that the mixture composition will change over time, where the leaves that remain will become unbalanced. It is best when growing mixes to find which salad leaves you like and then grow them individually in separate pots. In this way, you can mix your own salad to your own preference, without losing any additional crop.
You can mix baby leaves with traditional large chicory or iceberg lettuce leaves to make a more interesting salad. It is not expensive to do and you will be harvesting leaves in a short time.
STEP BY STEP GROWING GUIDE
All salad leaves can be grown in a similar way, as long as you follow this recommended guide.
- In container choose a waterproof receptacle that has enough drainage hole and enough volume to allow the roots to develop. Shallow troughs and window boxes are ideal, along with a large pot that has a diameter of 25cm. Fill the container with a moisture retentive multipurpose compost. Sow the seeds thinly at a distance between 1 to 3cm between each seed, and then cover with a fine sprinkling of compost.
- Use the recommended sowing time on the seed package as a guide to when to sow. As a general rule salad leaves are sown between April and August for harvest in May to October. Seeds sown in April will require frost protect, so cover with a cloche or horticultural fleece.
- With come and cut again varieties the leaves should be ready to be harvest in 3-4 weeks after sowing. The leaves should be around 10cm tall, where they can be cut to 2-3cm above the compost level by using scissors. Do not pick by hand as you can damage the plant. Always leave a few leaves intact to allow the plant to re-sprout successfully and to recut in a few weeks’ time. This is so dependent on the variety used and growing conditions if you can cut it more than one time. As said previously some can be harvested 4 times before the plant resources become depleted and the plant dies.
- Keep the compost moist at all times, as dryness will encourage them to bolt. Remove any plants that have bolted, as the leaves will be bitter and inedible.
Some plants may not re-sprout, whilst others such as Pak Choi are pulled up as small plants, which are harvested for their young succulent leaves. It is highly recommended that you should sow every few weeks to make sure that you have enough leaves to last the whole summer,
MAKE YOUR OWN SALAD MIXES
In online stores and garden centres seed packets of baby leave mixture are widely available. This is not the only viable option as you can make your own using individual seed packets.
Below are types of mixes that you can make or be commercial bought. Please note you can use all the suggested varieties or you can omit those that you do not like. Later on, the description of each variety will be discussed in greater detail.
This is one of the most popular mixes and is often listed in seed catalogues. It often contains Endive, Mizuna, Kale, Mustard Greens, Lamb’s Lettuce, Lettuce, Chervil, Rocket, and Sorrel. It may contain all or a mixture of some of these varieties.
This is an Italian mix which tends to be heavy in chicory, with added optional extras. It normally contains Chicory, Radicchio, Endive, Rocket, and Watercress.
If you like your salad leaves to be spicy and have a kick to them, then the following mix is for you. It normally contains Cress, Rocket, Mustard, and Mizuna.
If you like your salads to have a more herby taste, then this mix is for you. You can use any of the following Mustard, Wild Rocket, Lettuce, Coriander, Mizuna, Baby Swiss Chard, Chervil and Parsley.
If you like a more exotic mix of salad leaves that you can go no wrong if you use the following; Pak Choi, Mizuna, Choy sum, mustard, perilla or tatsoi.
If your preference is for salad leaves that come from influences across the pond, then you can use the following salad leaves: Lettuce Lollo Rosso, Lamb’s Lettuce, Sorrel, Chervil, and Dandelion.
You can also make your own depending on your taste and preference, so if you like it French and spicy there is nothing stopping you from doing this. There are no rules to what you can mix, so go crazy if you want.
The following leaves can be used to make your favourite salad mixes.
This plant has a long history as a grain crop, but only recently established as a source of baby leaves for the home gardener. If you have a choice go for the red leave variety, as they are more vigorous than green varieties.
They will also be very colourful in any mixed leaf salad. The flavour of the leaves is impossible to describe but to experts they describe it tasting like Orange. It is not fully hardy and so the seeds must be sown in mid-May after the last frosts.
BULL’S BLOOD BEETROOT
Bull blood beetroot is a beetroot that is not grown from the roots but the green red-veined leaves that it produces. It starts off this colour but as they age they turn a deeper red colour. You can really sow thickly as you are harvesting the young leaves and not the roots.
There are two types of chicory that will add colour and crispness to any autumn and winter salad. You will find them refreshing and tangy, or you will find them to be bitter.
The first type is the forcing chicory that produces ‘Chicons’, which are the plump, leafy heads that are produced from roots kept in the dark during the winter months. This is not applicable to summer container garden growing.
The second type is not forced and are not blanched and are left to grow naturally. Radicchio is the usual red variety that is popular one to grow and use in salads.
Radicchio heads are lettuce like, where the red colour deepens as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter. Cropping starts in autumn, where chicory can be used to extend the growing season.
Chervil grows quickly, where the first leaves can be picked about 8 weeks after sowing. Sow where it is to grow and then thin to about 15cm apart. Do not allow the compost to dry and so water regularly. Pick outer leaves for use in salads first whilst removing the unwanted flowers at the same time and dispose of. The aniseed flavour is short-lived and so add it to your salads at the last moment.
This is a relative of Pak Choi and is very popular in Chinese cooking. You will need to search for a seed supplier in the UK. The fleshy stalks are the reason why the plant is grown, which are cut when the flowering buds start to appear.
Sow the seeds between May-September for a July-November crop. It is not an easy plant to grow so you will need to persevere to get a decent crop. You will need to successional sow to produce a crop throughout the growing season, as it can be only harvested once.
Salad leaf cress is more broadly leaved than those grow indoors and harvested young. These varieties are cut at a much taller stage, where their parsley-like leaves give a peppery kick to any salad.
The aromatic leaves will give a spicy kick to salads, where a citrus-like flavour is introduced. You need to pick a sunny spot, where the seeds are sow in spring. Thin the seedlings to 10cm apart to allow the plant to flourish. Grow the variety ‘Leisure’ if you want a leave producing coriander instead of one that is harvested for its seeds.
I know most of you will be shocking in thinking a weed can be harvested as a food for any salad. You will be surprised that dandelion leaves have been eaten since medieval times. The leaves need to be blanched, and this is accomplished by excluding light from hitting the plant. The leaves turn paler and sweeter and then can be cut and used in salads.
You cannot use the common garden dandelion as the leaves are not big enough, so you need to find and buy a variety that has been bred to produce larger broad leaves.
Sow them in April in containers full of multipurpose compost. In the following spring (not this year) cover each plant with a dark pot (as long as it excludes light, it does not matter what you use. This will allow the blanching process to start, and after ten days the leaves will be white and can be harvested for salads.
Endives are the basic feature of salads on the continent, but not much so in Britain. This is despite endives have more flavour than lettuce. By sowing at monthly intervals in spring and summer, you can have heads of endives for six months or more.
Endives come into two types, a curly-leaved one and a broad-leaved one, which has more lettuce-like leaves. Both can be used in salad, although the latter is often cooked and used in making soups and other vegetable dishes.
‘Frisee’ is the normal variety to grow in containers as a mixed baby leaves salad.
Kale is normally eaten as a cooked vegetable but it may seem surprising that there are several varieties that can be eaten raw and can be used as a salad ingredient. ‘Fizz’ has been specially bred for its leaves that can be used in salads, whilst red-stemmed kale is often found as part of a salad mix in shop bought bags.
The main advantage of lamb’s lettuce (or Corn Salad as it is alternatively known) has over lettuce is that its small leaves can be harvested between November to January, where fresh salad leaves are rare. Sow in August to September, thinning the plant to 15cm as the plant matures. The thinnings can be used in salad, so nothing goes to waste.
During winter a few leaves from each plant can be harvested, and used in salads. Do not over pick as this will deplete and kill the plant. To some people, it is too bitter to eat, and so can be blanched in the same way as recommended for dandelions.
LAND CRESS/AMERICAN CRESS
This is often used as a substitute for watercress. It needs to be successional sow from early spring to autumn, where you can pick the peppery leaves from April to November. Easy to grow, all you need is a moist compost and spot in the shade.
LEEF BEET/SWISS CHARD
The name Leaf beet and Swiss chard can be used interchangeably as they are the same thing. It is often cooked and used as a spinach substitute. Young leaves, on the other hand, can be used raw in salads. The colourful stalks and veins of the leaves provide interest and texture to salads. There are many popular varieties that can be grown, these include ‘Rhubarb Chard’, ‘Oriental Intense’ and ‘Canary Yellow’.
This is a mainstay of any salad, where lettuce such as iceberg is often used. There are alternatives which could be used as part of salad leave mixes. Green varieties are used such as ‘Green Oakleaf’, but more often red edge frilly types are used, such as ‘Lollo Rosso’ and ‘Red Oakleaf’. Several cuts can be taken from each plant.
This is a popular ingredient in salad leaves mixes. The seed can be successionally sown in spring and summer to give harvest from late spring to early winter. The green leaves provide a peppery taste to any salads. It prefers to be grown in a light shady area.
This is an excellent choice for salad leaves, where you will need to sow seeds every few weeks to have a continuous supply throughout the growing season of April to November. The leaves come in a variety of shapes from oval to feathery.
The colours are also interesting as you can have white-veined green to all over red leaves. They have a range of taste from mustard to peppery, with the strength increasing with leaves age. There are so many popular varieties that are available, so choose your own.
A salad leaf vegetable that has a crunchy texture and tangy taste. It may be hard to find, but it is worth the hunt for, as it can crop in two weeks. That’s right it only takes two weeks from sowing to harvest, so many successional sowing will be required.
The oriental vegetable is often found in the supermarket, where it is immediately recognized. It has a slightly spicy flavour and can be harvested when the plant reaches 10cm tall, where it can be cut and used as salad leaves. The time between sowing and harvesting the leaves for salad is one month. You can leave the stumps to re-sprout and provide a supply of new leaves for several months. There are many varieties that can be used for this purpose
Pea shoots are an ideal salad ingredient, which imparts a crisp texture and a pea-like flavour. All varieties are suitable but ‘Twinkle’ is the noted one. Pick the shoot tips after a few weeks after sowing you can then continue to pick small shoots throughout the life of the plant.
If you want a usual salad leave then this is a plant for you. It is one of the rarer salad leaves to find, as you will need to search high and low to find a supplier. It is mainly used as a garnish and to add interest to salads in China and Japan. The flavour is unique, and the leaves come in green or red colouration.
Winter purslane or miner’s lettuce is used as a cut and come again salad leaves, where it will crop all winter. The leaves are best whilst young. ‘Golden Purslane’ has yellowish green leaves and red stems that look great in salads.
Rocket is found in all garden centres and catalogues. Sow it in containers between March and August. The leaves can be cut 3-4 weeks after sowing, and is a cut and come again vegetable. This cannot be trusted, so to have a continuous supply it is better to sow seeds every 2-3 weeks.
The leaves are peppery but this varies depending on the variety sown and its growing conditions. Wild rocket has the strongest flavour, whilst ‘Voyager’ has the most vigour. ‘Sky Rocket’ combines the two traits, whilst ‘Buzz’ grows all year round.
This perennial is often grown in France but rarely sown or seen by the British. It is a perennial and can be propagated by planting seeds or by plant division. Sow seeds in April, thinning the young plants to one per container. Little attention is needed, but watering is required in dry weather.
Pick a few leaves at a time from each plant as soon as they are big enough to be used. Small leaves are less bitter than large ones, once the plants are established you will be harvesting leaves at regular intervals from March until November.
‘Red Veined’ has been specially bred as a cut and come again salad leaves, where it has a citrus-like flavour and attractive red leaves.
This is not added to salads to impart flavour but added to give colour. The flavour is best described as bland but the shape of the leaves introduces more interest than the normal round lettuce found on sale. Salad varieties include ‘Lazio’, ‘Reddy’ and ‘Red Cardinal’. You need to successional sow to have a continuous supply throughout the growing season.
TATSOI/ROSETTE PAK CHOI
The dark green leaves form a decorative rosette, where each spoon-shaped leaves are carried on a pale green stem. The leaves can be harvested at any stage from baby to full maturity, where it can be used in salads and other oriental recipes. It is more slow growing than Pak Choi but has a better flavour. It is a very useful ingredient in winter mixes as it will tolerate cold weather.
There is only one variety that can be grown that does not require running water, and that is ‘Aqua’. This variety will quite happily grow in a container full of multipurpose compost provided it is moist at all times. Best to cut the leaves whilst young, where they will provide a crunchy and peppery flavour to any salads.
In this article, growing your own salad leave mixes in containers have been discussed. Instead of buying prepared salad leaves, you can make your own to the way that you like it. In this article, many suggestions have been made, and this will enable you to be confident in making the right selection for you and how to grow them.
The choice is large and everybody’s taste are different, so using the information provided in this article you can make your own.
Tell me what is your favourite salad leaves mix is in the comment box below, or if you have a burning question, do so in the usual place.
Happy salad eating.