A Salad Garden: What You Can Grow

Vegetable gardens usually include the minimum essentials for summer salads but a small area devoted entirely to salad greens can contribute to daily enjoyment and endless variety.

If you share my problem of limited space, the first question will be, “Where in the world could you put it?”

Salad GardenPin

Convenient Narrow Edging

A narrow edging of parsley plants near the kitchen door had been so convenient that I was convinced a salad garden to be of most value should be near the kitchen where I could dash out for that extra bit of green as the cooking inspiration dictated.

There was one useless narrow strip near the kitchen, on the south side, running the length of the house and bounded by the lot line.

It was so hot and dry there that nothing but weeds had grown in the lawn we had attempted to establish. It was a problem area. It was near the kitchen. It was worth a try.

Moving A Rototiller In

The rototiller was moved in. I wondered if we would strike rocks in the gravel I was sure was there. To our surprise, we turned up only very sandy loam, no rocks, no coarse gravel.

Immediately after the rototilling, I added compost and peat moss, raked it in lightly, and left it for several days to settle before planting.

The entire area was about 12′ feet wide by 36′ feet long, but the 12-foot width was cut down by a two-foot hedge (which I trimmed back to 18 inches), and the foot close to the house’s concrete foundation was not usable. 

A 3 ½ foot by 7 ½ foot cold frame was also cut into the middle of the area. If I were to have much variety in my salad bowl, I would have to place rows near each other and minimize the paths. An 18-inch strip nearest the hedge would make for a path the length of the plot. 

I decided maximum use could be obtained by plotting a five-foot bed that would be worked from the paths running along opposite sides. I recalled that the old colonial herb and kitchen gardens were laid out in oblong beds; I would just run mine all into one bed. 

In the space nearest the house, I made a long, narrow bed for some of the taller herbs.

Lettuce

Variety, especially in greens, was what I particularly wanted. Nothing is so good for a summer menu as a tossed green salad, and a “green salad” is green, with leaves fresh from the garden. The basic green, I suppose, is lettuce. 

Lettuce—as if there were only one kind or possibly two, head and leaf lettuce. Many catalogs list 10 to 25 varieties, but most of us buy a packet of one or two kinds and let ourselves be satisfied. 

Last year, even though it seemed extravagant, I ordered several packets, knowing that I had more seeds than I would have room to plant, but wanting to sample the taste and growing habits of the different kinds.

The Difference In Lettuce

There is a difference in lettuce, just as there is a difference in the taste of apples. As in apples, part of it is probably due to contrast in texture— crisp, soft, smooth, curled, thick, thin. 

Several kinds are used together to make a most attractive salad bowl. In addition to variations in texture, there is a variety in color, varying from dark green to yellow-green to creamy white center leaves. 

Some have leaves edged with red, and now a new variety, ‘Ruby,’ is available, a uniformly deep color as the name signifies. The third reason for a wide selection is that the time of maturity varies from 45 to 80 days.

The following list merely suggests the range. Some I have grown in vegetable gardens in the past; some I tried for the first time last season.

Leaf lettuces are my favorite; they are tender; I can use them much sooner, and I get more yield from the space available. 

I have indicated the days given on the packet in the list, but they vary considerably due to conditions. However, the approximate number of days is useful for comparing different kinds.

Other Excellent Additions To A Green Salad

Tender beet tops with a touch of red make a good addition to a green salad. Tender turnip tops are usable as the turnips are thinned. Small leaves of Swiss chard add color and texture, but older leaves are too tough. 

Celery tops add flavor. Leaves of witloof chicory may be used when very young, but they get too bitter as they mature. Scallions, onions, and carrots may occasionally be added to the salad bowl.

Nasturtiums grow in a window box on the kitchen porch, where they can easily be picked to add flavor to the salad. 

There is a mint bed, carefully confined, against the basement wall. In a fruit salad, it is most welcome, but rarely does it belong in a green salad.

All these, except as noted, were grown from seeds planted in the bed. My “rows” are oblong beds, 9″ to 12″ inches wide by 5′ feet long.

I “broadcast” the seeds over the space and cover them lightly with peat moss, then I mark the divisions between varieties by a thick narrow band of peat moss which can be pulled around the plants as they grow. I label each bed.

Almost as soon as the plants become recognizable, I begin to thin them and use the thinnings in the first salad bowls of the season.

I try to work in a few second sowings, which in the limited space takes ingenuity. As I use up the best of the lettuce or scratch the peat moss into the bed, I sometimes have a bit of space to sow a few seeds for a later crop.

I like to gather greens in the early morning when they are crisp and perhaps dew covered. Then it is a pleasure to nibble and make the selections for the day.

No matter how I do it, I still find washing a chore. If the beds are well mulched and thickly planted, there is less dirt to wash off. 

Having washed as carefully as patience permits, I spread the leaves out on layers of towels and stacked them very lightly in the vegetable crisper. When I am ready to use them, the leaves will be cool, crisp, and dry.

Few Variations For A Green Salad

A salad to me means a green salad, but I do recognize a few additions and variations, such as radishes, rings of red onions, scallions, green pepper, and tiny green beans.

I think cucumbers should be crisp, and they get soggy and limp with the greens, even though they add flavor. I prefer them served separately. 

The same is true of ordinary tomatoes. They are too good by themselves to be thrown in the bowl of greens, where the juice runs out and dilutes the dressing.

The tiny cherry or pear-shaped salad tomatoes can be put in whole and make an attractive addition without ruining the crispness of the greens.

The variety, even of lettuces—made even’ day’s salad a delight, and each salad differed from those we had before.

Such salads are impossible unless you grow your greens and can pick and choose from a dozen to 20 different kinds with endless combinations.

44659 by Lee Thompson