The best thing about salad leaves is that they are quite quick to grow. You can also cut them as they grow so there is no waiting for weeks for the entire plant to grow and ripen. Great if you are impatient and/or new to gardening. You can simply harvest as and when you need it and the plant will grow more ready for your next meal.
What to plant
There are many different salad leaves so why not plant a few different varieties so that you can reproduce those mixed bags you get in the supermarket. But, without the one leaf that they always put in that you really don't like, of course!
It is good to sow seeds at regular intervals - a couple of weeks apart - so that you ensure a regular supply over the summer. So if you start sowing in February/March you could keep going until September and - with the help of tunnels and winter varieties - even longer. If you get over excited and sow the whole packet then you will end up with a glut. It would make you popular with the neighbours but see you buying from the supermarket again which would be a waste.
Where to Plant
Salad leaves are best grown in full sun on well-drained soil. They are ideal to grow in containers such as Vegetable Patio Planters or a Self Watering Tower Garden or Vigoroot Balcony Garden which can be placed right outside the backdoor for easy access from the kitchen.
If you want to grow them in the garden then they can have their own bed. Or they can be slotted in between rows of other plants where they will help to keep the weeds down.
Sow indoors from February on a nice warm windowsill. Or outdoors from mid-spring to late summer.
For containers, sow thinly by sprinkling the seeds on the surface and covering with about 1cm (½in) of compost.
For outdoor sowing, prepare the seed bed by removing weeds and stones and raking it over. Next, make shallow drills about 1cm deep. A great way to do this is to press a bamboo cane into the soil. Water along the drill before sprinkling in the seeds. Cover thinly with soil or compost, and water gently.
Put each individual type of salad seed in separate containers or in rows. Mark them so you know what you are eating (and can decide if you want to grow it again). Alternatively use a packet of mixed leaf seeds and hope for the best in terms of identifying which you liked!
Thin out some seedlings when they reach about 2" (4cm) by removing with your thumb and forefinger. This gives more room for plants to develop. You can use the thinnings to add a hit of flavour to your shop bought salads.
You may wish to cover the plants with ultra fine Micromesh netting from June to August to prevent pests such as slugs, snails. flea beetles and Lettuce Root Aphid getting to them.
Care for them by watering well.
Slugs and snails are your number one enemy with salads. Pick off any that you see and use traps such as the Slug Buster to keep them away.
Lettuce root Aphid. These affect older plants. You might not see the actual aphids as they are below the soil but you might notice the plant wilt and die back. Another sign is lots of ants round the plant. They feed on the honeydew that the aphids produce. To deal with them you can pull the lettuce up - wash the aphids off and replant in fresh compost.
Cut the salad leaves when they reach around 4" (10cm) as you need them. You should be able to do this three or four times. Once the plants start to flower the leaves become bitter so you will know this is time to stop. By the time your first batch have finished cropping the next batch you sowed will be ready giving you a summer full of salad.