How to grow your own salad at home — yes, we said grow!
And do not let a small balcony or other excuses hold you back
Imagine being able to step out your door with a pair of scissors and a bowl, snipping a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and then simply having to uncork your favourite bottle of dressing to drizzle overtop. Don't let a garden inferiority complex hold you back! Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to grow and plants don't mind a bit of shade, so pots could be tucked into the corner of a deck or on a balcony, if you don't have a traditional garden. You can even grow lettuce indoors.
It's simple to grow lettuce from seed. Or, in the spring, once garden centres and nurseries start putting out veggie plants, keep an eye out for bowls or pots filled with mixed greens. These have been a staple now for a few years—you can even find them in grocery stores. Grace Kwok, of Balcony to Table, packs her 7x4-foot balcony with an abundance of salad greens, from lettuces to herbs.
Here's what you'll want to consider to start with confidence and to ensure success.
Pots for your greens
Lettuce doesn't need as much depth to grow as other vegetables, so you can get away with planting it in a variety of different containers. Get creative and upcycle a tired old table into a lettuce table like I did, retire an old metal colander or fashion a laundry basket into a lettuce tower. Small, fabric, raised beds are lightweight options if you're concerned about weight on a balcony or deck.
Now it's time to start salad shopping. Opt for a variety of greens, which will give you a diverse range of flavours. Look for crunchy varieties, like Butterhead, and stray from green-only greens with colourful types, like Red Sails and Lolla Rosa Dark. If you like a little spice, look for Wasabi arugula and if you're looking to sauté, try New Zealand spinach.
Sowing your salad
Follow packet instructions for depth, spacing, light and care requirements, and if you're not going to wait for a whole head of lettuce to mature, don't be afraid to space lettuce a little closer together. One smart sowing tip is to space out your seed sowing. Plant a few seeds and then wait a week or two before planting more. That way you have a more continuous harvest. Once the summer temperatures arrive if it's in full sun, lettuce is likely to bolt. Wait until late summer to sow more seeds for fall salads.
Trimming for salads
Rather than pulling out the whole head of lettuce when it reaches maturity, your plants will last longer if you trim a few leaves here and there. This process has a charmingly apt name called "cut and come again." Kwok recommends trimming the outer leaves first, which allows the inner leaves to continue to grow.
Depending on where your salad greens are planted, various pests (i.e. hungry bunnies or insects) may decide to make an appearance and get to your greens before you do.
Last year, Kwok, who gardens organically and also grows tomatoes and herbs, had a problem with aphids. She bought thousands of ladybugs, let them go at night and eliminated the problem. "They really do the job—and they're cute," she says.
For Kwok, her balcony is on a very high floor. She gets the bright sunlight she needs, but living so high puts her in the path of strong winds. This just means she has to be a bit more mindful of frequent watering as the soil dries out much sooner.
Other salad fixin's
While lettuce is a great salad base, don't forget about other tasty greens. Herbs add delicious, fresh flavour to salads, too. Consider tossing in dill, parsley, chives and cilantro (if you're part of the population who likes the taste). For Instagram-worthy salad bowls, grow edible flowers, like nasturtiums and violets.
Of course you'll likely want to toss in some cherry tomatoes, red pepper and cucumber, but that's a whole other gardening deep dive!
Tara Nolan is a freelance writer who covers gardening, décor, travel, and cycling, mountain biking and other outdoor adventures for a variety of publications. She is also one quarter of the popular gardening website Savvy Gardening.