Gourmet Gardener: Savvy salads!
Our Gourmet Gardener, Tara Kate Linnane, is already thinking ahead and planning produce for her summer salads...
If a freshly mixed crunchy salad is something that interests you, this spring, take the opportunity to grow your own variety of greens and garnishes, which, in a few weeks will allow you to snip and serve as you please.
Growing a salad garden is easier than you think. Most salad greens are quick growing and ready to harvest just a few weeks from seeding. They can be grown in garden beds or containers, and the majority thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring. There is no shortage of choice and trendy mustards and mizuna are as popular as the more traditional lettuce and spinach.
While it still is considered early, you can sow a number of salad crops under cover including lettuce, rocket, mizuna and radish.
I have developed a love for this small peppery delight over the years. I love the bite it can add to a salad, and the different varieties offer an array of colours including red, pink, black, to contrast against the greens.Radishes will be ready to harvest quite rapidly, as soon as three weeks after planting for some varieties. For most varieties, harvest when roots are approximately one inch in diameter at the soil surface. Pull one out and test it before harvesting the rest!
The greens of all radishes are edible; they have a delicate flavour and are better suited for eating raw in a salad.
I like to grow the French Breakfast radish. It's beautifully red, its elegant shape more elongated than round radishes with a white rounded tip. It’s mildly acrid and has a pleasant crispy taste. It is one of the early maturing varieties of radish, ready to harvest in about 25-30 days after planting the seedlings. This makes it ideal for having a quick and constant supply for salads.
Lettuce is widely considered the base for most traditional salads, so when growing your own salad bar at home it is an essential element. For growing purposes, I categorise lettuce into two groups; plants that form hearts or what we call ‘heads’, for example Cos or Butterhead, and the second type produce loose leaves, which are suitable for the cut and come again method of growing.
Leaf-lettuce plants renew efforts to produce leaves, if regularly watered after trimming. Results will often be smaller than the original plant, but you may be able to harvest a second, good-tasting crop within as little as two weeks.
Salad greens from frilly kale to spicy mizuna can all be grown with ease. Mizuna is a really versatile veg and for salads can be treated as a cut and come again crop. This allows a constant supply for supper.
Grow multiple plants together and harvest the leaves when they are young. They will shoot again within a couple of weeks and you can enjoy up to four cuts from one plant.
The method for growing is similar no matter the crop. Sow a thin layer of seeds into a tray of compost and, when they have true leaves and have established root system, they can be transplanted into a row for maturing, or can simply be grown in a pot.
These quick crops offer such satisfaction as we move into the brighter spring days and are looking to eat more fresh and colourful meals. Salads are great as a side dish, and shortly we will be able to grow and add more colour and layers to our salads with edible flowers and fresh crunchy beans, but before all that, get the base growing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
• Tara Kate Linnane is passionate about sustainability and growing all things edible. Together with her husband Barry, she has embarked on a journey of designing edible spaces and getting others started on their gardening adventures. Follow their journey on Instagram @twopeas_inapolytunnel or visit thefoodscapedesignco.com to make contact for information.