There is no doubt that a good and continuous supply of salads helps to ease housekeeping. Apart from their economic value, fresh and raw vegetables are good for both health and beauty. Salads need never be dull for there are now so many salad plants you can grow.
Salad plants are crops grown especially for salads and those which, although suit-able for other use, may also be added to the salad bowl.
Lettuce is the foundation of most salads and the gardener may take his choice from the many butterheads, crispheads, cos and loose leaf varieties. ‘May Queen’ is liked for late spring and early summer lettuces. ‘Unrivalled’ is often chosen for successional sowings between early April and August. The three new Dutch ‘K’ varieties are worth consideration for greenhouse work. Modern cos varieties do not need tying but a tie encourages the formation of a firm heart. The leaves of loose leaf plants are pulled as and when required but no plant should be stripped. American varieties such as ‘Great Lakes’, ‘Buttercrunch’ and ‘Salad Bowl’ are considered to be more tolerant of drier summer conditions than many other sorts. As with so many other vegetables, early thinning of the seedlings is very important.
Endive often replaces lettuces in autumn and early winter salads. Seeds are sown in June, the seedlings thinned in July and blanching started in October. The heads must be quite dry when blanching is started and absolute darkness is very essential. After being blanched, endive must be used at once before rotting begins.
The easiest form of celery to grow is ‘American Green’. Plants are raised from a sowing made in heat in late March and the plants, after being hardened off in the cold frame, are set out on the flat in early June. Apart from weeding and watering, no cultivation is necessary. Self-blanching celery is often grown as a summer frame crop. For late autumn and winter supplies, blanched celery is grown. The plants, before blanching, may be green, pink or red. All forms of celery need a rich bed and a great deal of water.
Celeriac can replace celery in winter salads. Plants raised in heat and hardened off are set out of doors on a rich bed between mid-May and early June. The plants need as much water as celery, and the roots are lifted and stored in October. Celeriac should be grated for salad use. Chicory has the flavour of the heart of a cos lettuce and the crisp quality of celery. Sow in June and dig the roots in November. Store them in a trench and blanch batches on and off during the winter. In a heated greenhouse, blanched chicons are ready for cutting within a month of planting the roots.
There are two kinds of cucumber—the hardy outdoor and the English frame type. In the south, hardy European, American and Asian varieties may be grown on the flat or on tall trellises. In the north, cloche or frame protection is advisable. A good, all round variety to choose is ‘Burpee Hybrid’. In the south, ‘Conqueror’ and ‘Telegraph’ do well in the cold greenhouse and in the cold frame. In other areas, plants of both varieties need some artificial heat. The female flowers of hardy outdoor kinds must be pollinated. With frame-type cucumber plants, all male flowers are pinched off to prevent the fruits from being misshapen and bitter.
Mustard and cress is a welcome addition to winter and early spring salads. The seeds are sown in trays or pots filled with seed compost. Germination takes place in a dark, warm place. The white stems and yellow leaves change colour when the receptacles are brought into the light for a day or two. Sowings should be made on and off for succession between October and March.
Although termed ‘spring onions’, plants of the onion variety ‘White Lisbon’ are seldom ready for use until May. Sow in August and give cloche protection in cold areas. A further sowing may be made in March or April for summer supplies. Start pulling the onions when they are quite small. The larger the bulbs, the hotter they become in flavour. Early spring supplies of salad onions are also obtained by growing the Welsh onion. The flavour is very mild. Cocktail-sized tree onions may also be used in salads. The onions are very strong in flavour and it is sufficient to slice one or two over a salad.
Beetroot is boiled before use Summer supplies are obtained by sowing a globe variety under cloches in late March or in the open between mid-April and early May. An intermediate or long variety should be sown in May for winter storing. Carrots are grated for salads and main-crop varieties are suitable. Otherwise thinnings may be used whole.
For crops of radishes between May and October, successional sowings of ‘French Breakfast’, ‘Icicle’ or other quick-growing varieties should be made from March until August. For use in late autumn and winter salads, large-rooted kinds such as ‘All Season’, ‘China Rose’ and ‘Black Spanish’ are grown from a June sowing. These radishes have a very delicate flavour when sliced very thinly or grated.
Tomatoes may be grown in heated and cold greenhouses, under cloches, or in the open. ‘Ailsa Craig’ is reputed to be the finest flavoured variety and ‘Outdoor Girl’ is a newer, hardy variety for cloche or outdoor growing. For a difference in the salad bowl, yellow tomatoes are suggested. ‘Golden Boy’ is a large-fruited variety of excellent flavour. ‘Yellow Pear’ and ‘Yellow Plum’ are small ornamentals and ‘Golden Amateur’ is a self-stopping bush plant.
By full use of the greenhouse, cold frames and cloches, the good gardener is able to raise lettuces for at least six months of the year. The production of winter and early spring lettuces is not easy and these crops are a challenge to the gardener. Certain hardy varieties for April cutting may be over-wintered in the open in favourable areas, but much depends on the winter weather following the autumn sowing.
Lettuces fall into three groups – cabbage, cos and loose-leaf. The cabbage kinds are subdivided into crispheads and butterheads. Those sold by the green-grocer are almost always butterheads because crispheads do not travel well and wilt rather quickly after harvesting. The cos varieties have long, boat-shaped, very crisp leaves and they are preferred by many for their fine flavour. Loose-leaf lettuces are more popular in the United States than here, although one American variety, ‘Salad Bowl’, is liked by many gardeners.
Any check to steady growth is liable to result in rather poor lettuces. Water is very important, but the soil must be sufficiently porous to allow for good drainage. Although late summer lettuces will tolerate the shade cast by rows of taller vegetables, earlier sowings demand an open, unshaded site. The soil should have been dug well during the winter digging programme and organic manures in the form of farmyard manure, garden compost or spent hops applied generously. These manures are invaluable in helping to retain soil moisture and, at the same time, increasing the porosity of heavy soils.
The first sowings may be made under glass in January or February and a green-house temperature of 55-60°F (13-16°C) is suitable. Sow thinly and not deeply in shallow trays and prick off into deeper ones as soon as possible after germination, allowing each seedling 2 square inches of space. Harden off in the cold frame in late March and plant out on a mild day in April. Plant with a ball of the compost mixture adhering to the roots at 12 inches apart in the row. If cloches are available, the small plants may be set out beneath them in late March.
Outdoor sowings may be made in March in the south-west and during the first two weeks of April in other areas. Here again, cloches are useful. Sow as thinly as possible in 1-inch deep drills spaced 15 inches apart. Keep down weeds by hoeing and thin the seedlings to a foot apart when three or four leaves have formed. The thinnings from March, April and May sowings may be used to make further rows.
A sowing made in late July provides lettuces in November and December but here again, the weather plays an important part. The rows need cloche protection from October onwards. For early spring sup-plies, sow in the cold frame in September and, subsequently, replant the seedlings in the greenhouse or in frames. Alternatively, sow in the greenhouse in early October and transplant when the plants have four leaves. Deep planting at any time is unwise. It is particularly dangerous where lettuces are to be over-wintered. Over-crowding must also be avoided and correct ventilation is very important.
Birds often peck at lettuce seedlings and plants. A few strands of black cotton fixed above the rows prevents this trouble. Although present-day cos varieties are reputed to be self-folding, better hearts form if the plants are tied rather loosely with raffia or soft string. Loose-leaf varieties are less prone to bolt than cabbage and cos plants. Instead of cutting the whole plant, leaves are picked as and when required from loose-leaf varieties.
Among the very many varieties on offer, the following may be relied upon for worth-while crops.
- For early sowings under glass ‘May Queen’ (syn. ‘May King’).
- For outdoor sowings from March until July ‘Sutton’s Improved’, ‘Unrivalled’, `Trocadero’, ‘Webb’s Wonderful’, ‘Giant White Cos’, ‘Salad Bowl’.
- For sowing under glass for early spring cutting ‘May Queen’, Theshunt Early Giant’, `Kordaat’, `Kloek’.
- To stand the winter out of doors `Stanstead Park’, ‘Arctic King’, ‘Brown Cos’.
Chicory offers a nutty contrast in texture to the soft winter lettuce.
Sow seeds of Witloof chicory in May or June. The soil must be fertile. Any manure or garden compost added prior to sowing must be very well rotted. Sow thinly in drills inch deep, spaced 1 foot apart. Keep down annual weeds by hoeing. When the plants are about 2 inches high, thin to 9 inches apart in the rows. Except for weeding now and then, no further cultivation is necessary. 4
By November the plants will have made roots resembling parsnips. These are dug a few at a time. Cut back the top growth to 1 inch above the crown and reduce the length of the roots by an inch or two. Discard any thin or fanged roots.
Pack the prepared roots closely together in boxes or large clay flower pots filled with damp potting soil. Unless blanched in absolute darkness, the chicons, as the blanched shoots are called, will be yellow and bitter. Exclude light by making a specially darkened pit beneath the green-house staging. Several sheets of black polythene should be draped above and around the boxes or the pit. Inverted flower pots, with drainage holes covered, may be stood over pots or roots. Reason-ably quick growth occurs at 60°F (16°C), but in the garden shed or the cold green-house, the chicons will take two months or so to develop.
When the blanched chicons are 6 inches tall, cut them off at soil level. Good cookery books give recipes, but the blanched chicons are more generally used in salads. The forced roots should be added to the compost heap.
Like chicory endive is an extremely useful winter salad, but it must be grown properly.
Although the leaves of endive (Chichorium endivia) look similar to those of lettuce, they are very bitter and few people enjoy eating them green. However, after blanching there is no trace of bitterness and endive replaces lettuce in late autumn and winter salads.
Seeds may be sown as early as April but to produce plants for blanching in the autumn, a sowing is made in June. Allow 1 foot between the rows and the seed drills should not be deeper than 1 inch. If the soil is on the dry side, flood the seed drills with water. Sow reasonably thinly when the water has drained away. Provided the soil is in good heart and able to produce fine lettuces, no fertilisers need be used. Thin the seedlings to 9 inches apart when they are large enough to handle. Some of the seedlings may be transplanted to a cold frame or unheated greenhouse for plants to be blanched in November or early December, Keep down weeds by hoeing or by mulching with sedge peat and water well if July or August are dry months. Cover the row with cloches in October.
The first batch of plants may be blanched in October. Complete darkness is essential. Partial darkness results in yellow endive which has traces of bitterness. The plants must be quite dry when blanching is started. Damp plants are liable to rot. The process takes from four to six weeks and although some success may be obtained by covering the cloches or the frame with black polythene sheeting, far better results are forthcoming where the plants are dug up with a ball of soil around the roots. The plants are then replanted beneath large clay pots, from which all light is excluded by covering the drainage hole with a piece of slate or tile.
This is a method of culture by which light is excluded from edible portions of vegetable crops, thereby preventing the formation of chlorophyll (green colouring), rendering the growths crisper, more palatable and more attractive. The method used varies with the vegetable concerned. Celery has the stems either earthed up or encircled with cardboard. Chicory and sea kale crowns are lifted, packed close together in boxes, covered with sand and placed in a shed or cold frame. Dandelions (for salad) and endive are both blanched by inverting a pot or box over them. Leeks have the soil drawn up round the base as they grow, gradually extending the length of the white of the leaves. Except for leeks all crops should be fully matured before blanching, otherwise growth may be checked.
There is a low-growing annual weed of cornfields, Valerianella locusta, which is also known as Lamb’s lettuce, which makes a good salad. It is particularly good with cold meats and game. Valerianella locusta, Italian corn salad, is preferred to our native species, V. locusta, because it is less coarse and the leaves are longer. Those who like this herb, value it for salad use when other greenstuff is in short supply.
For winter and spring crops, a sowing should be made in August or September. Providing the soil is not prone to produce a great deal of weed seedlings, seeds of corn salad may be broadcast, raked in and the bed then firmed. A south-facing border is ideal with the soil well dug and fairly rich. Alternatively, sow in inch deep drills, spaced 4 inches apart. If the seeds were sown rather thickly, thin the young plants to 4 inches apart. For earlier and more tender leaves, sow four close rows in September and cover with barn type cloches in October. The leaves may be pulled as spinach, or the whole of the plant cut off with scissors.
This is Nasturtium officinale, a hardy annual belonging to the Cruciferae. Of the two types the green is best for summer supplies, the brown for winter and spring.
If you are growing it to eat you should not plant water cress in a garden pool. To grow it in a natural stream you must be certain the water is free from pollution. It is best grown in a permanently moist and partially shaded position from seed sown in April or August, or from rooted cuttings. You dig the soil deeply and incorporate moisture-holding peat, etc. The surface of the bed should be an inch or so below that of the surrounding soil. After being firmed somewhat and raked well, the bed should be flooded with water. When the water has drained away the seed may be sown broadcast but not be covered with soil. All weed seedlings must be removed. Water cress offered for sale often has roots which may be cut off and planted into a bed prepared as above. Sprigs without roots will put forth roots in water which should be changed daily. Plant the rooted cuttings quite thickly to cover the bed. Water cress may also be grown in pots or clay pans stood in shallow containers of fresh water, well shaded, or in a sink sunk in the ground. For winter and early spring supplies, protect an August-made bed with frame lights when colder weather comes. The containers may also be stood in a slightly heated greenhouse.
Seeds of this quick-growing vegetable may be sown for salads at intervals from early March to October. It is generally treated as a catch crop, being sown on a piece of ground which is intended for cabbages or some other crop to be planted subsequently. A rich, moist soil and cool conditions yield the most succulent radishes. Slow growth may cause them to have a rather hot, unpalatable taste.
Sowings in March or early April may be made in the cold frame or under cloches. Sow the seeds in 1-inch deep drills, the drills being six inches apart. Sow thinly to avoid having to thin out. Remember each radish needs at least 1 square inch of surface area. Sow similarly in open ground. Prevent annual weeds from smothering the seedlings and soak the rows with water if the soil is on the dry side. There are many varieties and ‘French Breakfast’ is probably the most popular. ‘Sutton’s Red Forcing’ is suitable for cloche and frame sowings. The long, white radish ‘Icicle’, is liked for its flavour.
Winter radishes are large and may have a black skin, as in the variety ‘Black Spanish’, or a red skin such as ‘China Rose’, or a white skin like ‘All Season’. Do not sow winter radishes until June and space the rows 1 foot apart. Thin the seedlings to 9 inches apart, and keep the rows free of weeds. Water well in dry summer weather. Lift the roots in October and store them in slightly moist sand.
Mustard and Cress
This is a useful, easy-to-grow salad crop which may be grown throughout the year provided that a temperature of 50-60°F (10-16°C) is given. Cress takes a little longer to germinate than mustard so cress seeds must be sown in a separate container three days earlier than mustard in order to be able to gather the two together. Bulb bowls or seed trays should be filled with fine, sandy soil or with bulb fibre. Water well, using a very fine rose on the can, and then sprinkle the seeds evenly and reasonably thinly on to the moist surface. Firm the seeds into the soil or fibre with a block of wood. No covering of soil, fibre or sand is necessary. Stand the containers in a dark place or cover the pots or trays with pieces of wood until the seeds germinate. Water carefully if necessary After germination, allow full light. Both mustard and cress grown indoors are ready for use within two to three weeks of sowing. Cut the 3-inch high seedlings with scissors. For successional crops, sow weekly between October and April.
For the first crops out of doors, sow on an open, south-facing site in early April. After forking the soil lightly, firm it well and then rake so that the soil is very fine indeed. Sow as for under glass. Early sowings may be damaged by heavy rain which beats the tender seedlings to the ground. This may be prevented by providing glass protection; sowings may also be made earlier in the cold frame in soil similar to that recommended for plants grown in bowls or seed trays, or under cloches. For sowings made between late May and September, choose a north-facing border.
Actually, any brassica seeds you may have left over in the packet at the end of the season can be grown and used in exactly the same way as mustard and cress.
If you like the sweet pungency of fennel grow the variety Foeniculum dulce which differs from the perennial kind, grown as a herb, in the swollen bases of its stems. These are sliced and used as salad. They also can be simmered and served hot. F. dulce is treated as an annual. The seeds should be sown in March, thinned early otherwise the plants will not swell as they should and kept growing well. They should not be allowed to suffer from drought. The swollen bases are ready in late summer but it is wise to pull some before this even if they are not quite mature so that the usefulness of the crop is extended.
Dandelions are a cherished salad crop in many countries. The young green leaves are treated in exactly the same way as lettuce. It is possible also to lift the roots and to force the plants in the same manner as that used for chicory. An easier method, and one which should appeal to most gardeners who seldom have the chance to make the most of a weed, is to cover the plant to force and blanch it. This should be done in early spring.