I decided to do a little tutorial on how I grow salad greens after the following conversation with my husband:
Me: How much do you think this would cost in the store, a huge bowl of fresh organic mixed salad greens?
Husband: Oh, about four dollars. But that’s without e. coli. The e. coli will cost you an extra fifty cents.
Me: You are so weird.
Actually, I didn’t say that last. Frankly, around here that’s understood. What I did say was, “Exactly! That’s my point. Cheap, easy to grow, and you know where it’s been.” And then what I thought was, everybody should grow salad greens.
A lot of you have gardens. Big gardens, small gardens, container gardens. I know some of you are still just thinking about gardens, and for practically anybody, growing salad greens is a great place to start. This is for you newbies ready to take the plunge.
Here is what I do:
1. Prepare the soil. In my case, a basic square raised bed, filled with whatever comes out of my compost heap. If you don’t have your own compost bed use the best garden soil you can afford. You can also grow in containers or directly into a well-prepared ground-level bed. Lettuce likes rich, slightly acidic (6.0-6.8 pH) soil that is well-drained. Reserve a bucket of fine soil for sprinkling over the top after you have sowed the seeds.
2. Select the seed. I typically use pre-mixed leaf lettuce and greens blends, often called mesclun, mizuna and misticanza. If you choose to do the same, look for the blend best-suited for your climate and time of year. While lettuce prefers cooler temperatures, summer blends will allow you to extend your season past the “salad days” of spring. And of course, don’t forget the fall. A crop of mesclun can overwinter in some parts of the country.
3. Wet the soil. Give it a good soak. Stick your trowel down a few inches to make sure you’ve saturated the soil beneath the surface.
4. Sow the seeds. Not too thick, not too thin. I usually err on the side of too thick, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart. You can thin later.
5. Lightly sprinkle the surface with some of the reserved soil. Not too thick. Just barely cover the seeds, a rule of thumb is to cover seeds with soil equal to the thickness of the seed itself. Gently pat the soil. Say, “nice lettuce, nice lettuce,” as you do this. Avoid eye contact with neighbor.
6. Lay down a floating row cover over the bed. You don’t absolutely have to do this, but taking this step will improve germination and baby your crop by keeping in moisture and discouraging pests, including insects, birds, cats, dogs and children who like to dig. To keep it from blowing away, I use lengths of fencing wire bent in half or, like here, staple it to the wooden sides of the bed. Do this loosely enough so you can peek under and so the baby mesclun has room to grow.
7. Keep well-watered. You will probably need to water daily until the seedlings are well-established. You can water right through the row cover. Remove the row cover later if you feel it is time, or loosen it up to “float” on top of your mesclun. Fold it back or reach under to harvest.
With leaf lettuce, I obviously don’t thin much. I just let it go wild. This is a personal choice because I’m lazy and it seems to work out fine without much thinning, but by all means, thin to the recommended spacing on your seed package if you desire.
To harvest, I either pick leaf-at-a-time, or use the cut and come again method, shearing off just the leaves from patches as needed. They will grow up again and you can harvest multiple times from the same plants.