Growing edibles is one of today’s most popular home gardening activities, with millions more Americans expected to embrace the grow-it-yourself philosophy. Whether it be to passionately get your hands in the dirt or to provide your family with a safe, healthy backyard food source, it is time to start thinking about tending your garden. Not sure what to plant? Salad greens are easy to grow, take up little space and are a particularly smart choice in light of recent reports of bagged salad contamination. Here’s how to grow lettuce blends and microgreens in your backyard garden.
Start with seeds
There are a vast array of lettuce greens you can plant in your home garden. You can choose from the greens your family regularly likes to eat or you can choose from blends that contain a variety of lettuce blends and microgreens. Visit your local garden store or nursery (you may even find seeds for sale at your local farmers’ market) or browse seed catalogs and online seed stores for seeds that suit your needs.
Types of salad blends
You can buy individual types of greens or, a more convenient option, buy packets of seeds with salad blends. Salad blends contain a few different types of lettuce and other edible leafies. According to the experts at Sunset, there are three types of salad blends: lettuce blends, mesclun and microgreens.
Lettuce blends: Typically, seed packets of lettuce blends contain a variety of nonheading leaf lettuce that come in a variety of shapes and colors.
Mesclun: A mesclun blend usually has two to three types of lettuce and three to five types of microgreens, which can include arugula, chervil, mache and parsley just to name a few. Mesclun contains a variety of greens in an array of shapes, colors and tastes.
Microgreens: These are fast growing greens – usually arugula, kale, radish and other baby greens – that will be harvested when they are only a couple of inches tall.
How to grow your greens
Who better to consult for gardening advice than the editors at Sunset magazine? Their most recent book, Western Garden of Edibles (February 2010), is an all-encompassing resource for gardening vegetables, herbs and fruit in your backyard, providing climate zone information, gorgeous photography, an encyclopedia of 250 edibles, tips on garden design, and essential guidelines for planting, watering, fertilizing and battling pests. Here are their tips for growing your own salad greens.
1. Choose your site
Whether you choose to plant seeds in a garden bed or in pots, salad blends grow best in full sun during the fall, winter and spring, and should be planted in partial shade in the summer. If you are planting in containers, use pots or containers that are at least four to six inches tall and as wide as you like.
2. Start with good soil
Salad blends need rich, well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter. As you are growing your greens, you will need to keep the soil moist.
3. Plant your seeds
Simply scatter seeds over your prepared soil or in your planting containers. Make succession plantings every week for microgreens and every two to three weeks for mesclun and lettuce mixes. For microgreens, you won’t need to thin since they will be harvested often. For bigger varieties, thin to three to four inches apart.
4. Growing your greens
You can pick lettuce at any size, from thinning stage to full maturity. To harvest mesclun, snip the greens at two inches above the ground (they will produce new leaves for your next harvest). Pick microgreens whole after they are one to four inches high. To fertilize, apply half-strength fertilizer once after seedlings develop true leaves
5. Watch for pests
Slugs and snails like salads, too. To keep them from snacking on your garden, bait for them or surround plants with a copper barrier.
Growing salad blends are quite simple, and once you start enjoying fresh from the garden salads, you’ll want to keep a growing crop of salad greens in your garden or containers all year round.
More reasons to garden and grow your own
For more gardening tips and inspiration to grow your own, visit Sunset.com.