Salads make for some great, healthy meals. They work well as lunch because they are easy and convenient to eat, especially if you’re at work, but they're also great as a side with dinner or as dinner itself if you throw some tasty chicken or steak into the mix for protein. Unfortunately, the problem with store-bought salad ingredients is that they rarely last as long as you’d like, which means you either have to buy smaller amounts to ensure that you eat them all before they start looking iffy (which ultimately means more trips to the store) or buy large amounts all at once and hope that everything gets eaten. Either option can be a pain. However, if you started cultivating your own salad garden, you’d have fresh greens and ingredients right there in your home. There’s nothing like being able to harvest a few leaves off of your growing greens and keep coming back for more long after your bagged salad would have been thrown in the trash.
Some of the first things you should consider putting into your garden are the greens. You can grow a wide variety of lettuce types, including head, leaf, romaine, butterhead, endive, and escarole — and don’t forget about other tasty greens like cabbage, spinach, kale, radicchio, mustard greens, mesclun, arugula, young beet leaves, and swiss chard!
You can even produce your own baby greens (also known as microgreens). Baby greens are more tender than their adult counterparts, as you pick them when they’re still very young. One of the best ways to produce lots of baby greens is to sow a large number of seeds in a row, and thin the seedlings down as you eat their leaves in your salads. Just be sure to leave some space between seedlings if you plan on growing mature greens down the road.
Of course, some people prefer sprouted greens in their salads. These are typically grown using a sprouting container or mason jar and a large number of seeds. You can add them to your salad as they begin to sprout.
There are several root vegetables that can make great additions to salads: carrots, radishes, beets, shallots, and onions are just a few. If you’re planning on growing your veggies indoors or in containers, you may have to rule some of these out of your salad garden. For instance, most people think of carrots as needing a deep plot of soil without rocks or clay to thrive. Luckily, there are a few carrot varieties out there that are perfect for containers, as they don’t grow particularly long. Even if they're short, you'll still be getting that crisp carrot taste in your salads!
Peas and beans some other great additions to your salad garden. From edible pod peas like snow peas to shelled peas, there are plenty of varieties that can thrive in home gardens, and you'll be able to harvest them as needed for your salads. Beans are another great treat to throw into salads, and you don't have to limit yourself to just green beans. Grow heirloom peas and beans along newer varieties to make cultivating them all the more fun!
Depending on your location, you may even be able to grow some fruits in your salad garden. People often enjoy putting apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries into their salads, so you might consider trying your hand a cultivating few of those fruits. Apples, peaches, and pears can be a bit more difficult since they require larger spaces for their trees to be planted, but if you have the room, it could be a lot of fun. There are also some varieties that don’t grow as large as others, which could be ideal for a backyard garden.
One thing you may have noticed about many of the items we've mentioned is the fact that they're cool-season crops. This means that you can grow them early in the season before your other outdoor crops and get a second crop of them growing toward the end of the summer and into the fall. You may have some luck during the hotter months if you look for varieties that are more heat-resistant or slow to bolt.
Placement can also be key. Growing your cool-season crops in areas with more shade can help them last longer when the temperatures start to climb. In addition, indoor growing can sometimes provide better conditions when you’re trying to keep your salad greens and other cool-weather crops alive deeper into the season. Your home is probably cooler than the outside, so that can help.
Growing your own salad ingredients can be very rewarding, especially since gardening is such a soothing hobby and it'll save you a ton of money at the grocery store. If you don't want to do everything yourself, that's okay. You can always grow the plants that you feel comfortable growing, such as greens, and purchase the items you can’t grow elsewhere. Some grocery stores even offer live greens for those that want to make their salads last a little longer but don’t have the energy to wait for seeds to sprout. You can bring them home, add some soil to them, or just keep them in a cup of water for fresh lettuce.
Good luck in all your salad garden endeavors!