The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The year of the salad

Spicy salad leaves and a poppy

Spicy salad leaves and a poppy

When I was growing up salad was just a few basic ingredients arranged on a plate. It was the same for Danny.
“Sliced cucumber, a quartered tomato and some lettuce leaves.”
“Was the lettuce that soft floppy kind?”
“Yes, the stuff that bruised easily. And I always seemed to get the bruised leaves”
“Did you have celery?”
“My mum used to make an apple, walnut and celery salad. A triumph compared to the rest.”

Over the past 40 years salad in the UK has evolved massively into something that can be surprising, delicious and satisfying. I’m determined to create some exceptional salads this year. I have tried simple stuff – such as tomatoes and thinly sliced onion. Danny was unmoved and didn’t want an encore. Now I’m actively researching salad – different leaves, combinations and seasonal varieties.

At Celia’s recently, her friend Jackie brought a salad that was exceptional. The capacious plate was scraped clean.
“I just added all my favourite things.” Jackie was modest.
There were French beans, asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, herbs and so much more.

Last week I cut some baby leaves from the tunnel. Spicy salad leaves (Mr Fothergill’s ready in 3-4 weeks and at least 3 cut and come again lavishness). Danny loved them – they were ultra fresh. That’s the secret. These could have been grown in a pot or a windowbox.

Having tasted these leaves, Danny’s salad loving antenna clicked into life.
“I’m growing a lot of leaves in the shady border. Do you think it would be worth finding out what else we could sow?”
“I never thought that I’d say this but I’d like to eat a side salad every day. If it was really tasty.”

So these past few days I’ve been propped on the sofa reading my two salad books. Both bought a few years ago on a healthy living whim – flicked through and left for later reference. Now I have both the time and D’s encouragement to fire me forward.

The Organic Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom is a great book. The illustrations are good and the whole process of growing throughout the year is covered. Like all her books, Joy Larkcom’s style is friendly, readable and informative. My other salad book Salad Leaves for All Seasons: Organic Growing from Pot to Plot is by Charles Dowding – packed with inspirational descriptions and excellent advice from growing micro leaves on a windowsill to big borders filled with seasonal leaves.

Seasonal is the key word here. Not having studied salad growing in any depth before, I had no idea that there are some leaves that can withstand low winter temperatures and there are others that prefer summer heat and sun. So rather than chomping through the same selection of leaves all year the salads change with the seasons.

Over the last few days I’ve discovered why my early sowings of pak choi just reached a midget height before bolting and my red perilla didn’t germinate (both sowed too early in the year). But better than that I found new salad leaves that I’d not heard about – with clear descriptions of the taste, uses and ideal conditions for each plant. In fact I’ve been astonished that there is so much to learn about the simple salad leaf.

Incidentally there are a handful of commercial salad leaf growers that have given Charles Dowding’s Salad Leaves for All Seasons: Organic Growing from Pot to Plot the thumbs up.

Although I like Joy Larkcom’s book I’m slightly more drawn to Charles Dowdings’s tome. Danny got very excited when he discovered a section of harvesting notes – running from April to December. 71.2 kilograms of leaves were harvested from two 2.4 x 1.2 beds. That’s the equivalent of 475 x 150g bags of leaves. Some leaves such as lambs lettuce can be harvested right through the winter. There are detailed monthly planting and care notes. As with most vegetables that are harvested during the winter months, most have to be sown in August or September as growth slows with the shortening days and lower temperatures.

Every new growing adventure requires funds. If I want to try growing lots of new plants I have to invest in seeds. As you know this can be expensive. However I was saved by Sarah . She recently left a comment about collard seeds being available from the MoreVeg online seed shop. This is a super site that I’d not heard about before. Seeds are sold in smaller amounts than normal so most packs of seed are just 50p. Yesterday I ordered a lot of different varieties of leaves for salads and stir fries – and I didn’t have to spend loads of dosh.

Both books also include many tempting salad recipes. And of course Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book has loads of salad ideas too.


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  1. PipneyJane

    Please explain – why did the Pak Choi bolt? I’ve tried growing it twice and each time has been a disappointment: small leaves, white stringy stems, etc. I love the stuff, so any enlightenment would be appreciated.

    – Pam

  2. louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife

    We grew various assorted cut-and-come-again salad leaves last year – and like you Fiona, we very much enjoyed little side salads with every meal. Snipped fresh, just as much as we need.

    Our leaves have been a bit slow off the mark this year but they’re finally getting going now – every spare container is filled with them and I use them & mini Tom Thumb lettuces for intercropping too.

    Marion: Damo from Two Chances has been growing Webb Wonderfuls – is that what you mean?

  3. Pamela

    I love alfalfa sprouts and any other sprouted seeds too added to my salad. I love a very simple dressing of oil and vinegar, salt and pepper just roughly mixed in the bottom of the bowl before I add the salad. I also love toasted sesame seeds added just before serving so they sizzle in the dressing and are still warm when you start eating.

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