Friday, April 2, 2010

A Salad Garden

A salad garden is ideal for those gardeners who love instant results, as many salad greens are ready to eat in a short amount of time – sometimes in as little as a month! Quick maturing crops include arugula, baby leaf lettuce, radishes, mesclun mixes, baby carrots, spinach and swiss chard. Seed may be sown directly in the garden or planted in window boxes and containers if space is an issue.

You can even grow a salad garden in bags! Simply lay several bags of garden soil in the desired area and cut out a rectangle in the top of each, leaving the sides of the bag intact to hold in the soil. Poke some holes through the bags with a long screwdriver for drainage. Plant the seeds or transplants of your favourite crops – salad greens, radishes, baby or round carrots, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, bush cucumbers and more – grow what you love to eat!

Many leafy vegetables may also be planted in the garden now. As soon as spring arrives I plant an early crop of leaf lettuce, swiss chard, mâche, arugula and baby spinach, assuming of course, that the garden isn’t covered with a thick layer of snow!

Lettuce has traditionally been the foundation of a salad and there is a vast array of vibrantly coloured and textured varieties of lettuce to add interest to your meals. There are four main types of lettuce – butterhead, crisphead, looseleaf and romaine. Certain types grow best in cool weather, while others are more heat tolerant and can be grown in the summer. Check your seed pack if you’re unsure what type you have.

Butterheads form loosely folded heads of tender leaves and are ideal for a fall or winter garden. Crisphead lettuce is the category that tasteless grocery store iceberg falls into, but don’t hold that against it, as there are types of crisphead, like Batavian varieties that are spectacular.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of looseleaf lettuce and grow at least a dozen different types throughout the year. I use them to edge my garden beds and pick the leaves when they’re still baby-sized, about 3 to 4 inches long. Romaine lettuce is another favourite and I also use them for baby green production.

Some interesting varieties of lettuces to try include Royal Oak Leaf which boasts deep green oak shaped leaves, Red Salad Bowl whose light red leaves deepen in colour with maturity, and the intensely curled bi-coloured Lollo Rossa. When combined, the rich colours and textures of these lettuces create a very attractive salad – almost too pretty to eat!

In recent years, mesclun mixes have become very popular items in seed catalogues, fancy restaurants and home gardens. Originating from the French-Italian border, mesclun is a mixture of different salad greens such as endive, chervil, arugula, lettuce, purslane, dandelion, mustard, cress and so on. Some mesclun mixes are tart and tangy, while others offer a milder flavour.

If you are short on available space or have no room for a big veggie garden, plant in containers or interplant in existing flowerbeds. Lettuce makes a very attractive, as well as edible, display when placed in front of a flowerbed as an edging or when interplanted with flowers as an accent. Easter Egg radishes, Rainbow carrots, and colourful Bright Light’s swiss chard can also be planted in a flower garden to add style and flavour.

Happy Gardening - and Happy Easter!

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