If you’re growing in a small space (as I’ve often had to do) then it’s also a great opportunity to bolster the size of your yearly harvest by extending the growing season. There’s no great complexity involved and you can get started at any time of the year...all you’ve got to wait for is your seeds.
What is a year-round salad garden?
The other key to success lies in picking plants that are suited to the different seasons. Lettuces, for example, will appreciate the coolness of spring. Summer is a time for purslane and oriental leaves. Through autumn, you can sow cold-hardy plants like rocket, kale and lamb’s lettuce for harvests through winter and into early spring.
It’s all about getting the timings right and picking the best plants
Which plants and varieties are suitable?
- Lettuces - The myriad loose-leaf and “crisphead” (meaning they form a tight heart) varieties are all available to us. Some varieties, like Tom Thumb, Marvel of Four Seasons, and All the Year Round (to name a few) can be sown from March all the way through to November.
- Cabbage family - Kale, rocket, mizuna and all the mustard varieties are members of this family. They can be sown all through the year but are best started in spring, for a summer crop, or late summer, for an autumn and winter harvest.
- Beets, chard and spinach - These mainstays of the vegetable plot are also viable options but will prefer more usual planting times earlier in the year.
When and Where to Plant
Here are some loose month-by-month guidelines:
Sowing in spring: In many ways, spring is the ideal time for sowing plants grown for foliage. Lettuces, for example, like the cool weather and increasing daylight. Spinach, beets and chards will grow happily without the risk of running to seed that hot weather brings. As a general rule, I grow whatever I want during this time. Any members of the cabbage family are also great options.
Sowing in summer: You can take advantage of the heat of summer by opting for more unusual, less frequently grown leafy plants. Oriental veggies like chinese kale (which is wonderful with garlic), mizuna and mustards are good options. Kale is planted now for harvesting at the end of the year and into spring.
Sowing in autumn: Winter-hardy lettuces, like Winter King and Arctic Gem, will put on some growth before overwintering and can be lightly harvested through winter (December to March). They’ll pick up again through spring, providing you with the earliest harvests of salad leaves. You’ll be absolutely amazed at just how resistant to the cold these varieties are. Lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane and rocket (arugula) can all be sown now for picking through autumn, early winter and (if you’re lucky) early spring next year. September is usually the final month for sowing, but you can extend the season a little if you offer protection.
Looking after your leaves
One big thing I’ve noticed is that birds and slugs seem to love most of my leaves. I always cover with netting if I can and I’ve also found that copper tape around the base of pots is a godsend (apparently it reacts with their slime and slugs hate it).
How to Harvest
With a cut-and-come-again approach, pick the adolescent leaves. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the plants replenish themselves. The alternative, of course, is harvest plants whole. As long as you’ve staggered your sowings, you can pop new residents into the previously-occupied spots.
Through winter, wrap your pots in bubble-wrap and add a little cloche protection if you can. Custom cloches are easy enough to make with a touch of creativity and, if you’ve chosen winter-hardy plants, you might get a some new growth. That said, plants do tend to go dormant from November through until the end of February.
Did you grow lettuce this season? ~ Laura