How To Start A Small Salad Garden

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For beginners, a salad garden is a brilliant way to learn how to grow tasty nutritious food in any small space.

Growing salad leaves is a super easy way to contribute to your families plate and will can feed you and your family throughout the entire growing season.

You can even grow salads all year round with a little planning. Now that is a garden worth growing!

The great thing about a salad garden is that you are not limited by where or what you can grow. All of the seeds we have chosen can be grown in the ground,  containers, in window boxes or even hanging baskets. Wonderful for those who live in flats or the inner city who do not have dedicated garden.

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Where Should I Plant My Small Salad Garden?

Well, put simply, what space do you have?

Seriously. When your restricted in space it’s not easy to write a huge list of veg you want to grow when you don’t actually have the space or conditions to match.

My advice is to do what we did. Look at the space you have where you can squeeze in a few salad ingredients for example,

  • have you got room in a windowbox,
  • or have you have just taken an old shrub out of a raised bed which has given you a space to grow
  • Maybe add a vertical pocket planter like ours to your walls
  • Or maybe you plan to repurposed or buy a raised bedlike this one and plop it down in the centre of your lawn.
  • You can even grow indoors on windowsills or a dedicated hydroponic system link this

Draw out a rough plan on a piece of paper. We did this and here’s out plan of the spaces we have to grow this year. Get your own free printable here

Our garden layout

Record the light and soil conditions

Now I want you to keep an eye on these spots throughout a day. Keep an eye out for

  • which ones get the sun all day
  • Which ones get some sun and some shade
  • which ones get very little sun.

You also need to note the soil conditions.

  • Which ones seem dry. Maybe they are quite sandy and free draining or they are in a raised section of your garden on hanging planter and they stay quite dray all day.
  • Are any of them clay soil and stay damp all the time

Note these conditions down too. Have you even heard the saying ‘right plant right place? 

Plants of any kind have needs the same as we do. They need different levels of light, water, moisture retention and feed. Just like us our plants are unique and if we can be mindful of their needs then we will reap the rewards.

You wouldn’t put a drought tolerant plant in the margins of a pond for example or a plant that needs lots of water into a sand bank.

If you can ensure each plant has the right conditions then you will grow wonderful crops each time.

What You Need To Get Started

Salad leaves needs lots of water but not swampy conditions.  They prefer growing in shadier places around your garden.

They don’t need deep soil so are perfect for hanging baskets and pocket planters but must have a good supply of water or they will produce a flower spike and try to go to seed which means your crop is lost.

Reduce plastic by recycling food containers as mini salad bars.
lettuce seedlings ready to plant

Most of us have an awkward shady spot in our gardens whether that is on a North facing patch of garden or a pot behind a bushier plant.  It’s so much easier to create shade than to add more sun for example;

  • If have a balcony, you could hang a wall planter along the length of the railings, some facing out to catch the sun for herbs and strawberries and others facing inwards to give shade to the planter for salads and leaves. This will help create a further shady spot on the balcony too.
  • Also gathering a few pots of various sizes into a corner of your balcony, patio or patch. These can give areas that get sun and shade.
  • Try converting a pallet into a few of these shallow window box style planters like the ones below or even a few rows of guttering can offer space to grow salads.

Salad bar planter made from old pallets

What we have

In our patch, we have a few raised planters made from the sides of an old garage we took down a few years ago.
There are a few flowering plants in there but this year we have decided to go all out to see how much food we can grow in our own backyard.

You can see from our plan above we will use both our triangular raised beds, small raised planters and our pocket wall planter on the fence. We will also utilise our 4 hanging baskets and a few pots to extend our space.

Baby lollo Rosso lettuce leaves growing strong

Our garden is south facing so making sure our salads get lots of water is our priority.

What Should You Grow?

Now that we have our areas to plant and a list of the conditions we can offer, we need to look at what we love to eat and what we want to grow.
This is our plan from above for example again along side the plants we love to eat.

We then looked online and in seed catalogues at the sowing and harvesting dates  of the plants we want to grow, and what conditions they need. We then match these conditions to the areas we identified earlier.

I have a printable for you which will help organise your plans. It has a layout sheet, a ‘what should we eat’ spinner to make with your kids and a chart to organise all your research.

Our ‘what do we eat” wheel

Have fun playing with the groupings of your plants, just keep in mind the final growing size of each plant and don’t pack things in too tight.

How To Grow your salads

We use recycled pots and loo roll tubes to sow our seeds in so we can get them to a good size before planting them out to face the gauntlet of slugs and snails.

To do this, we fill our chosen pots up with multipurpose compost. There’s no need to add extra food to the soil as the compost comes with enough food for 4 to 6 weeks.

You need to sow your salad seeds around 1/2 to 1cm deep, however, try not to sow the seeds too close together. Your looking to get them at least 1cm apart as a guide but don’t worry too much on being exact.

If it helps you could make seed tapes with the correct spacing and grow your seeds that way.

You just want to give the seeds plenty of room to grow their roots out into the soil without upsetting its neighbour. Then cover the seed over to a depth of 1cm.

Cinnamon is your friend. Top Tip

A tip someone gave me is to lightly dust the soil with cinnamon powder as its said to stop mould growing on the damp soil.

Now you just need to pop your seeds somewhere sheltered. In some cases you might need to keep your seeds indoors until they germinate but the back of the seed packet will tell you this.

We use a green plastic greenhouse like this one. We have 3 of these dotted in different spots of the garden and they give us a sheltered environment to sow our seeds.

  • One in full sun for housing our tomatoes, pumpkins and other heat loving plants.
  • And a third for our seedlings that are waiting to germinate while we prepare their patch. This helps protect our seedlings from slugs and snails before they get big enough to survive.
  • Another is in a sheltered spot where the seedling we bring from indoors out to get used to their outdoor life.

You can also use a cold frame like this one we love using for our new seedlings and cuttings we take
You can also use individual cloches like this which are great for individual plants. If you have space, you can make your own from scaffold netting like these ones on our plot or for small lettuces etc a simple soda bottle with the top cut off makes a great cloche.

Reduce plastic by reusing loo roll tubes as seed pods.

What to grow in your salad garden

This part is really your own preference. You’ve looked above at what you like to eat which is the best place to start.
Then you need to look over seed catalogues and online sites and see what is available that suit the conditions you have identified.
There are some main types of plants to look out for which will give you a well rounded colourful display

  • Cut and come again types come in red and green varieties and can be picked when ready either by picking individual leaves or by taking scissors and cutting a bunch. As long as you leave 3 to 4cm of the leave attached to the roots they will regrow and give you 4 or maybe even 5 bunches of leaves to eat. These can be cropped over a long time but it is.worth having more than one sowing as they take around 10 to 12 days to germinate.i sow ours every 4 weeks.
  • Rocket has soft leaves and a slight peppery flavour and belongs to the mustard family. It has a beautiful delicate leaves and grows better in cool shaded areas. You can sow this regularly as this seed grows within 5 to 7 days and helps give you a continuous supply.
  • Full headed lettuces, form a loose head of delicious leaves which you can pick individually or as a whole head. We like to Plant every 2 weeks in trays to keep growing on so we never run out. As soon as one crop is finished, we remove it, refresh with a little new compost and immediately replant with another set of plants. These seeds take from 7-10 days to germinate.
  • Spinach – an easy to grow, soft leaf that goes well in a salad or as cooked leaves. Plant every 14 days for successional crops. The seeds can take from 5-9 days to germinate. Once germinated, keep cool as it tends to bolt or go to seed when the weather is too dry or too warm
  • Swiss Chard– a wonderful colourful leaf. Its a green leaf with multicoloured stems which look amazing on a plate. This plant ass amazing colour to your patch and even blends in the flower boarder as an attractive plant in its self. Its taller and gets to around 30-45cm high and can be picked small as salad leaves or cooked very much like spinach.

Explore what’s out there. You will also discover things like chicory, radicchio, oak and frizzy leafed plants or even nasturtium plants which will fill your garden with colour and give you flowers and leaves full of pepperyness.

How To Grow Salad Greens

Salad Greens are easy to grow. They are usually annual which means they are sown, grown and eaten all in one year.

They do prefer cooler weather as we talk about above so they can be sown early in the growing season. If you have a coldframe or one of those green plastic green houses you can start sowing seeds in March in the UK.

Our full greenhouse ready for planting out into position.

This year we tried winter sowing. We used milk jugs to act as mini greenhouses and sowed a row of them at the end of January.

The milk jugs acted as a mini greenhouse and gave the seeds a protected atmosphere and the grew so well despite the bad weather, it really helped us get an extra early start on our growing without filling the windowsills indoors.

The best bit is, they don’t need hardening off when you plant out!

Reduce plastic by reusing containers and making mini greenhouses to sow seeds in.
Winter sowing seeds lets us get ahead

Sowing Your Salad Seeds

If sowing your own seeds is too far for you just yet, you can buy seedlings at the garden centre. And you have the option to sow your seeds directly where they are to grow but you might find the slugs beat you to the leaves.

We like to recycle household materials to use as pots. Items like toilet rolls, yogurt and noodle pots, or even fruit or salad containers. This helps keep the cost down and care for our planet too. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

Eco seed starters

Recycled plant pots Seed starters

How to grow lettuce link

What to do next?

Read this post on how to care for your seedlings

Once your seedlings start to grow you need to transplant them into bigger pots or containers unless you sowed your seeds directly into your pots.

For salads you just need to lift the individual plants using a pencil or your finger. Replant them into where you want them to grow. Make sure you water them in and protect from slugs and snails.

Succession Planting In A Small Salad Garden

When we grow any type of crop it is important to think about succession planting. That means you need to resow every 2 ot 3 weeks to ensure that you have a continuous harvest through the entire season. Lettuce from one sowing will give you one harvest then your done.

So if you sow 4 lettuce seeds, hopefully you will eat 4 but then what?. However, if you sow 4, then when they show some growth, sow another 4 and so on you always have more plants in waiting.

You don’t need a field full of lettuces which will all be ready to eat at once and won’t sit waiting for weeks to extend your harvest as they will bolt and send up a flower spike and try to produce seeds which means your harvest is wasted. Sow little and often to make sure you have fresh lettuce.

Watering Your Small Salad Gardens

Salad greens require consistent moisture so water lightly as needed. I like to water twice a day with a watering can but others prefer  to use a drip hose irrigation system preferably in the cooler part of the day being careful to not over water.

Cut and come again Salad Greens

As we said above, you may want to grow loose lettuce leaves instead of ones that produce a ‘head or ball of leaves.
These types of lettuce can be cut leaving the base to regrow or be picked as individual leaves so the supply is continuous for a lot longer.

So there’s our guide to planning your small salad garden.So grab your copy of our planning sheets and get started

First Steps planning sheets

I’d love to see your plans and what you want to grow. Remember, if you need any help or have any questions just leave us a comment below

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