Grow Your Own

salad leaves

Sow in August and they can provide leaves for salads and stir-fries right through autumn. They flourish best in the cooler shortening days – don’t be put off if you have tried them earlier in the year with little success.

What you need

  • Container*
  • Multi-purpose compost
  • Seeds**
  • Watering can

*Containers – almost any container will do, provided it is more than 15cm (6in) deep and has plenty of drainage holes. Heavy autumn rain can cause waterlogging, so raise it up on bits of old tile or purpose-made ‘pot feet’; this will help excess moisture escape.
**Seeds – seed mixtures of different types of Oriental greens give great value for growing in pots, e.g. Bright & Spicy Salad Leaves, Stir Fry Mix and Oriental Salad Mix.

Sowing

  1.   Fill containers with compost to within 2-3cm (about 1in) of the rim and firm the surface lightly.
  2.   Scatter the seeds thinly, aiming for about 1-2cm between them
  3.  Cover with a thin layer 5-10mm (about 12 in) of compost, and water with a fine spray.

Growing

Keep the compost moist.
Tiny round holes appearing in the leaves of seedlings are signs of attack by flea beetles, which are most troublesome in hot dry conditions. Deter them by watering the seedlings well and covering the surface of the container with horticultural fleece until the weather gets cooler.

Harvest

  • Pick young leaves for salad as soon as they are large enough – this could be in as little as 6-8 weeks.
  • Alternatively, thin the plants out to about 4cm (112 in) apart each way (you can eat the thinnings) and let them grow larger for stir-fries.
  • In October, when the weather turns colder, protect the plants with a cloche or fleece at night to extend the harvest.

Added extras

Chervil and red chicory also make attractive additions to autumn salads. Sow both as for Oriental greens, in separate containers or in separate patches in a trough or windowbox. Pick leaves when they are about 5-7cm (2-3 in) high.

Chervil is dainty and has a mild aniseed flavour. Despite its delicate appearance, it is hardy enough to stand autumn frosts and give you pickings when other fresh greens are scarce. It is often used as a garnish like parsley, but will add a subtle spice to salads too.

Red chicories such as ‘Palla Rossa’ or Rossa di Treviso’ (often called radicchio) may have disappointingly green leaves at first, but will develop their brilliant colours with the onset of colder nights. The leaves have a slight bitter edge, so mix them with your other spicy salad leaves or robust raw ingredients such as apples and celery.

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