Who would think that there could be 20 kinds of lettuce, five types of red and purple salad greens and 20 varieties of tomatoes that can make up the perfect salad garden?
With many gardeners paring down from a backyard to a patio or deck, it is possible to feed a family of four or a two-person household with leftover produce for your neighbors!
Considering that most salad greens in any vegetable or specialty food market are now over $3 a pound, it can be a great advantage to plant your own.
My “kitchen garden” is located next my kitchen, on a windowsill next to the front door. I have now learned, after years of planting large gardens (the largest was ¼ acre), that I can produce enough produce to feed my son and myself with lots to share.
CREATE YOUR WINDOW BOX GARDEN
To begin the window box salad garden, I fill a 24-inch window box with good potting soil. Water gently and use a small hand shovel to make two 4-inch holes on either end. Fill with pre-started lettuce plants and press into soil.
Visit your local garden center to choose from the wide variety of pre-started seedlings. In cool weather, it will take over a month for seeds to grow to the size of seedlings, so it is well worth it to purchase the plants.
In the middle of the box, plant a small pepper or cherry tomato seedling in the same manner. If there is room, plant a second type of salad green on either side of the tomato. This could be endive or radicchio or try pre-started small herb plants.
After planting, make a small circular trench with a pencil or chopstick and scatter approximately 20 seeds of any leaf lettuce in a circle around the seedlings. You will always need to plant more seeds than you hope to grow, because they often all do not germinate.
The large leaf lettuce will eventually fade after a few weeks. Remove the spent head, and the new sprouts will fill in to take the place of the larger head.
As the lettuce seed begins to sprout and begins to show true leaves, it is time to thin your crop to one seedling per inch. I had friend who was just beginning her garden and she used to say, “I can’t bear to pull the little seedlings, I can hear them scream!”
But, truthfully, the space that is opened up by thinning enables the others to come to full size.
RAISED BED SALAD GARDENS
In the same manner, three or four varieties of lettuce can be planted side by side in a small raised bed or large container.
At the Pine Street Community Garden in Carlsbad, Chris B. and her husband have a raised bed that’s 4 feet by 12 feet, and she has been creating salad greens since Thanksgiving. Chris uses a wide variety in her rows of lettuce greens and trims them on a daily basis for her nightly salad.
She has had the good fortune to live across the street from the Pine Street Community Garden, “So I just walk across the street to pick greens for our nightly salad!”
DON’T FORGET THE DRESSING!
And the grand finale for all those lovely lettuces and greens is the dressing! I recently purchased yet another garden book from a colleague of mine in Upstate New York. Well, we just can never have enough gardening books, can we?
Katherine Whiteside has written numerous books on gardening and her latest, “The Way We Garden Now,” includes wonderful DIY salad garden tips and recipes. She suggests picking your lettuce and salad greens just before serving to wash quickly and dress with a homemade dressing. Here is my favorite salad dressing recipe, from “The Silver Palate Cookbook.” It is a deceptively simple salad, so don’t be tempted to add on lots of other vegetables.
HOMEMADE DIJON VINAIGRETTE
• Greens – clean and dry enough to fill salad bowl. Set aside in separate bowl.
• Two large lemons
• Six cloves fresh garlic
• 4-5 tbs. Dijon mustard
• One cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt (to taste, freshly ground black pepper
• Large handful of chopped fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley)
1. Make the dressing just before you pick your greens. Clean the greens in the sink to remove dirt and dry with clean towel. If you do not have your own garden, be sure to buy the freshest greens available.
2. In a large wooden or glass salad bowl, squeeze and seed lemons to produce at least 1/8 cup juice.
3. Chop garlic. Add to bowl, and wisk.
4. Add olive oil to bowl along with mustard. Add salt to taste.
5. Wisk entire mixture until emulsified. (Best done by hand or in blender).
6. Add entire lettuce mix to bowl. Mix with hands or salad tongs until well blended.
7. This salad is perfect by itself, but if you must, you can add a tomato! Be sure to eat immediately, since it does not store well. With a glass of white wine and crusty bread, you have the beginning of a perfect meal.
HAPPY GARDENING EVERYONE! Please send me your favorite garden recipes or tips to [email protected]
Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and Master Gardener and teaches classes at the Carlsbad Senior Center. Contact her for further information regarding classes at [email protected]