Anita Morton - Growing Gardens
Eat your greens
Salad vegetables are a rewarding crop for people who have only a small garden, balcony or courtyard. They are also the ideal food plants to try if you have little gardening experience, as the rewards are so quick to arrive. However, there are a few challenges to growing good quality salad in the summer months.
The soft, leafy greens we enjoy raw in salads include various kinds of lettuce, oriental vegetables such as mizuna and tatsoi, herbs like rocket and parsley, plus spinach leaves, warrigal greens etc. All these plants have a common need for high-nitrogen fertiliser and lots of water nitrogen is the element which promotes leafy growth, and in summer salad plants are poised to flower and set seed, which will be triggered by any shortage of water. Lettuces, in particular, are very sensitive to water stress, and will go bitter and bolt to seed if allowed to dry out.
Gardeners who like growing from seed might have trouble germinating lettuces at this time of year. This is because lettuce seed becomes dormant in hot weather. This problem is easily overcome by putting the seed packet into the fridge for a few days when you take it out, the seeds will have been fooled by the artificial winter and will germinate readily in the spring.
Rocket and oriental greens of various kinds are members of the Brassica family, like cabbage and broccoli. They are all hosts of the cabbage butterfly and if left unprotected will be completely consumed by grubs. These crops should be protected by spraying with Dipel. As we eat salad vegetables raw, stick with non-toxic sprays like Dipel and pyrethrum, and use beer baits for snails. Barrier methods such as draping an old net curtain over the salad patch will help protect plants from grasshoppers.