Nope – not quite crazy (yet). It may be September and only barely autumn, but the veg grower’s new year starts here.
My list of crops to get under way for the new season right now includes autumn-sown onions, hardy broad beans, spring cabbages and salads – lots and lots of salads.
I grow my salads in big containers, and in one square-metre veg bed just by the gate where it’s handy to pick. This is a really good trick for squeezing lots of variety out of a very small space – and with salads you rarely need very much of anything at a time, so this is a technique I’ve used in large gardens and small.
My square metre salad bed is made of reclaimed scaffold boards, cut into metre lengths then screwed onto uprights, 5cm x 5cm and cut about 15cm longer than the width of the boards – this means you end up with something that looks like a box on short legs. Use a mallet to knock these into the ground, checking to make sure it’s all level, and your raised bed is ready to use.
Mine is filled with a 50:50 mix of home-made garden compost and soil dug out of the garden – so it’s 100% sustainable, zero plastic and pretty much zero carbon as there’s no transport required (apart from by wheelbarrow). You can of course buy in soil improver instead of the garden compost (while making a note to self to make yourself a compost bin/wormery/bokashi bin asap); and topsoil is likewise available from the garden centre if you have to.
Divide the space into roughly equal sections: in this case, nine squares, roughly marked out with canes. I am getting mildly annoyed with this setup now though as I keep knocking them out of place: when I get a moment I will screw some short screws into the top edge of the bed so they’re sticking out, and tie string to them in a grid to mark out the squares instead.
So I have nine varieties of salad growing in this space:
- ‘Marvel of the Four Seasons’ winter lettuce raised under cover till they’re seedlings (safer from slugs) then planted out once large enough
- ‘Rossa di Treviso’ chicory – sown direct and harvested as baby leaves when they’re not as bitter
- Coriander – sown direct (as it always should be)
- ‘Red Frills’ mustard sown direct – this has grown much faster than everything else and is prolific but delicious. I can’t quite keep up with the harvest so I chop it back occasionally and add what I can’t eat to the compost heap.
- American land cress: a great watercress substitute that needs only damp soil to thrive. It’s easy as anything: sow direct and it keeps you going right through winter.
- ‘Moss Green Curled’ parsley: sown direct, and just a few seedlings up so far, but then parsley is notoriously difficult to germinate and even a few plants is enough to fill a small square after all.
- Rocket – the clue is in the name: lush green seedlings to snip young rather than letting it get too peppery
- Claytonia – one of my favourite winter salad ingredients, a curious succulent leafy green that’s very easy to grow (sow direct) with a crisp texture and a sweet, fresh green flavour
- Mizuna: about as easy as it gets. Indestructible and very tasty oriental salad leaf: sow direct and harvest young.
The trick is to make sure it stays damp, feed with high-nitrogen home-made nettle feed weekly in summer and perhaps fortnightly in winter, and harvest regularly: you should get 2-3 cuts from each square before it’s finished (for lettuce, harvest leaf by leaf). Then when you’ve finally picked the last from each square – I’ll probably be picking this lot till early spring before it’s spent – clear the square, add a few handfuls of home-made garden compost like a mulch, and resow each square straight away to keep the crops coming.