One of the satisfying things about growing your own vegetables is knowing you are providing healthy food for you and your family. Many claims have been made for various classes of vegetables, from helping to lower cholesterol to reducing the risks of certain types of cancer. Vegetables have been recognized as being good sources of vitamins and minerals, and have long been thought of as “health” foods.
While flowers and ornamental plants may be a feast for the eyes, a salad you’ve grown in your own garden is truly a feast for the body.
One of the beauties of your own salad garden is its versatility. You can make an “enthusiastic salad” – where you put everything you have into it – or keep things as simple as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. If you have family members who are not avid fans of leafy greens and their companions, getting them involved in the salad garden project will often whet their appetites.
Salads today go far beyond the simple fare they once were. Practically anything and everything can go in a salad. This means you can grow what you like to eat and ignore those you don’t. It also means you can be adventurous in trying new things on a small scale.
At the base of most salads is a leafy green vegetable of some kind: lettuce and spinach are two of the most popular. Kids who “don’t like spinach” often like it as a fresh green – they think it’s just another kind of lettuce. Other than spinach, choices of lettuces include iceberg, leaf, romaine, and Boston. Kids adore chilled iceberg lettuce – they love the crunch. To add color,
use carrots, red and green peppers or other peppers that can range from purple to green, red or yellow tomatoes, radishes, rings of sliced onions and basil, thyme, dill or parsley. A salad should include a variety of colors, shapes and textures to appeal to the eye as well as to the taste buds.
The standard produce in grocery stores has now expanded to an international market. There are easy-to-grow salad vegetables from Europe and Asia to add to your garden. The annual endive is native to Asia but was eaten by ancient Greeks. It is grown like lettuce, a cool season crop. Escarole and chicory are both essential salad greens in Europe and require little garden care. Radicchio, of Italian origin, is more difficult to grow, but the deep burgundy color is distinctive.
Under the generic heading “assorted greens” are some fast growing leafy crops. In the mustard family, cress is probably one of the quickest salad crops, needing only 10 to 20 days until harvest. The most vigorous cress is best grown restricted to a container. The peppery flavor of cress is a “wake up call” for salads. Mustard greens are another class, and like cress, cannot be described as bland. These greens are ready to eat in about five weeks.
You can make the salad section of your garden as large or as small as you want. You can even grow a salad in a container, planting items in rows or circles. In order to have fresh salad fixings for as long as possible, plan successive sowings of radishes, carrots and lettuces about 10 to 14 days apart so that you will have different rows maturing at different times.