Speedy equals salad. This is true whether you're filling a simple sandwich, or growing the ingredients for one in your garden.
Simple salad ingredients tick a number of boxes for gardeners growing in small spaces: they're compact in size, quick to grow, often repeat-cropping, and in many cases are suitable for the shadier parts of your garden. So if you're short on space but on a health kick, or just relish the prospect of a refreshing summer salad, make sure you prioritise salad growing in your garden plan.
Salad Leaves for Small Spaces
This year I'm ramping up my salad leaf production, as it forms the basis of so many salads as well as being my favourite way to fill out sandwiches and wraps. I really resent having to buy bags of salad leaves from the supermarket, as the quality is so poor and they barely last a couple of days – and yet they're phenomenally expensive compared to home-grown!
I like tender leaf lettuce best. This is the ideal type to grow in a small space, as lots of plants can be packed in close together if they are grown for baby leaves. Leaf lettuce responds well to repeat picking; take a few leaves at a time or cut whole heads and the stump should regrow up to three more times.
The choice of lettuce varieties is astounding. It's fun to have a pick-and-mix of different types growing in the garden to choose from – try combining red and green varieties, or oak-leaved with frilly leaved varieties for an eye-catching salad bed or container. Sow a few rows every couple of weeks to ensure a steady supply over the summer. (The Garden Planner's Succession Planting feature can help with this.)
Lettuce is great, but peppery rocket is even better, and it's also good for the cut-and-come-again treatment. Rocket tends to bolt (run to seed) when the weather heats up, so grow it in spring and early summer, or try one of the many varieties of salad rocket in place of wild rocket as they are a little less quick to go to seed.
Shade-Loving Crops for Small Gardens
What makes leafy greens such as lettuce and rocket really valuable is that they are best grown in partial shade to stop the leaves from getting too tough. This also delays bolting. In a small garden where space is at a premium, being able to use the shady areas is a real boon, leaving the sunny spots for other plants that really do need high light levels to thrive.
Spring onions are quick to grow and will also tolerate partial shade. It took me ages to realise that, despite their name, spring onions won't grow successfully if sown in late winter for eating in spring. For best germination results, wait until the soil warms before sowing, or pre-warm the soil by covering it with a cold frame or a sheet of plastic.
To help you find more plants that will cope in the shadier parts of your garden, use our Garden Planner; it includes an option to filter crop choices down to leave just those displaying partial shade tolerance.
Root vegetables are often seen as long-term crops, perhaps because they store so well. Yet early varieties of carrot, turnip and beetroot can be harvested small for delicious 'baby' vegetables that are gorgeous grated into salad. Beetroot and turnip 'tops' or greens are an added bonus, giving you two salad crops from one plant.
Radishes are one of the quickest and easiest vegetables to grow, and they pack a serious punch of flavour too. Harvest them before they get too big and woody, so the roots have a satisfying crunch to them. You can subdue the peppery flavour by roasting them whole in oil, but if you've no fear of fieriness try them sliced raw into a bed of mild salad leaves. Or emulate the Germans and slice radishes thinly, dust with salt and munch between sips of cold Pilsner on a summery Sunday afternoon. Not too much salt though…or you'll need more beer!
Worthwhile Larger Plants for Small Gardens
Cucumber is my wild card for small-space salads – it's certainly speedy, going from seed to first fruits in as little as 12 weeks. While it may not be small, it can be grown up a trellis so it needn't swallow up too much space. And if you can offer it a suntrap spot then just one or two plants should produce more than enough cukes for even the greediest gardener. Cherry tomatoes fall into the same category – you won't regret squeezing one or two plants in if you possibly can.
If you're unsure as to whether you have space for some of these plants, add them to your plan in the Garden Planner. The Planner automatically shows how many plants will fill the space you have available, so you can keep track of exactly how many you will need to sow or buy.
What speedy salad ingredients do you grow in your small garden? Share your experiences with us by leaving a comment below.
By Ann Marie Hendry.