There is nothing more rewarding and delicious than growing your own salad greens, lettuce and the fixings to enjoy on all Summer long.
Not only do these provide you a source of fresh leafy vegetables which are nutrient-rich, but even in the smallest of spaces are easy to grow.
This article will primarily focus on container grown vegetables for great salads, but the information and suggestions can be utilized even if you have a backyard garden.
What to Plant and Harvest Tips
For this article, we chose a mixture of salad greens, green onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes. They all grow especially well in containers and can be harvested over a span of time.
Most salad greens are a great “cut and come again” vegetable. When they’re about 4 inches tall, cut the tops of the leaves off and enjoy them in your salads. The plants will grow a new set of leaves that you can cut and harvest again.
Garden Tip: Plant a big patch and stagger your harvesting times so you can always have a fresh supply of greens during the growing season. If you are planting in shade try Arugula!
Green Onions are known to grow well in containers or clay pots. Make sure the container has at least 5 inches of depth. Within this size, you can freely and easily grow onion plant until it is a bulb size.
You can harvest young onions just a few weeks after planting if you want to use them as “spring onions” or scallions. There is no perfect size, just pull when they are big enough to suit you.
For full-sized bulbs, let onions grow and mature. They are ready to harvest when the bulbs are big and the tops begin to turn yellow and fall over.
Radishes are very popular among people who love container gardening. They can be easily and quickly grown in the container, even in smaller containers.
Harvest Tips: Radishes will be ready to harvest quite rapidly, as three weeks after planting for some varieties. Do not leave in the ground long after the mature stage, their condition will deteriorate quickly. Cut the tops off short, wash the radishes and dry them thoroughly. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
Tomatoes are among the most important vegetables which are well-suited for container gardening. Cherry Tomato, Plum Yellow, Window Box Roma, etc. are some known varieties of tomatoes which can be grown at containers.
Harvest Tips: Tomatoes are some of the easiest to harvest. Wait for them to fully change color and the fruits to have a bit of softness before picking. If frost threatens your tomatoes as they begin to color up, harvest them and allow them to finish ripening indoors.
Harvest tomatoes on the verge of changing color for fried green tomatoes or green-tomato salsa.
Smaller varieties are typically better than standard length varieties of carrots for growing in containers. Thumbelina, Short n Sweet, Little Fingers, are some varieties of carrots which are well-suited for container gardening.
Carrots are fully ripe when their shoulders reach up out of the ground and the leaves turn a rich, darker green than they were during the growing season.
Harvest Tips: If you get impatient, you can harvest carrots as soon as they’re large enough to eat. Plant extra so you can harvest baby carrots during the growing season while you wait for them to fully mature.
Begin pulling carrots as soon as they develop full color. This thinning process allows the remaining carrots to grow larger without becoming misshapen.
Salad Bush and Bush Pickle are varieties of cucumbers which are very popular in container gardening. Consider the right size of containers for growing cucumbers. You can increase the season’s yield of bush varieties by planting several crops in succession 2 weeks apart.
Cucumbers grow fast and don’t demand a lot of care. Just keep the soil consistently moist with an inch of water per week (more if temperatures sizzle and rain is scarce).
Harvest Tips: You can harvest cucumbers whenever they’re big enough to use. Check vines daily as the fruit starts to appear because they enlarge quickly. Vines produce more fruit the more you harvest.
Picking The Right Containers
Happily, most vegetables aren’t fussy about what kind of vegetable container garden they grow in. The only basic requirements are that the vegetable container garden is large enough to hold the plant and that it has drainage holes so excess water can escape.
When it comes to size, the bigger the pot is, the better, especially for beginners. The reason for this is that large pots hold more soil — and thus, hold moisture longer so you don’t have to water as much.
Look for vegetable containers that are at least 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Large flowerpots, half barrels, plastic-lined bushel baskets, window boxes, and large containers (like 5-gallon buckets) work just fine.
Shopping Tips: Online shopping is great for finding cool planters and garden have-to-haves. With almost every online store offering free shipping and 10%-15% your first order you can find the perfect container for the perfect price. I found some nice gardening products on The Lakeside Collection, William Sonoma, and Target.
How Much Sun Do You Need?
Most vegetables grown in a vegetable container garden do best in full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day). Tomatoes, peppers, and other varieties that often get diseases usually stay healthiest in an open spot with plenty of air circulation.
However, if you have more shade than sun, don’t worry. Lucky for us most salad fixings all grow just fine in partial to very little sun, but keep in mind that you will have to wait a bit longer to eat them as they will grow slower.
The Soil and Fertilizer
Using a good quality soil is essential for container gardening. You can either purchase pre-mixed soil such as Miracle-Gro Garden Soil specifically for vegetables or mix up the soil yourself using equal parts of peat moss, potting soil, and vermiculite, perlite, or clean sand. Fill the containers to within an inch or two of the rim.
To determine how much potting mix you’ll need to use this as a guide:
3 pints of soil per 6-inch pot
3 1/2 gallons of mix per 12-inch pot
6 1/2 gallons of mix per 20-inch pot
The frequent watering required by container plants will wash away nutrients more rapidly than if the plants were grown in the ground. Help replace them by using a timed-release granular fertilizer, or a plant food that you mix with water, like Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food.
Fertilizing Tip: Starting about a month after planting, feed your vegetables about once a week with a water-soluble fertilizer, following the package directions.
How to Plant Vegetables in Containers
Plant your vegetable container gardens at the same time you would plant in the garden. Depending on what types of vegetable you want to grow, you can start seeds in your containers, grow transplants from seeds started indoors, or purchase transplants from a garden center.
Regardless of whether you are planting seeds or transplants, thoroughly water the container before you plant. Soak the potting mix completely, then allow it to sit for a few hours to drain excess water.
Plant seeds according to the package directions. Because not all seeds will germinate, plant more than you need, then thin the excess later. Set transplants at the same depth they were growing in their containers (except for tomatoes, which you can strip off their lower leaves and plant them deeper in the container).
After planting, water gently but thoroughly to settle the seeds or transplants. Keep the soil in your vegetable container garden from drying out as fast by mulching with straw, compost, leaf mold, or a similar material.
Watering is the most important thing to watch for in your vegetable container garden. So inspect your vegetables regularly to make sure the potting mix hasn’t dried out. Also, keep an eye out for weeds and other pests.
While in containers usually aren’t as susceptible to disease as varieties grown in the ground, you’ll still want to watch for problems. Remove or treat any that show signs of disease or insect damage.
Salad Dressings Recipes to Enjoy All Summer Long
When you finally reach harvest time and step out to your patio, backyard or front porch to pick those fresh veggies for your first homemade salad don’t just pick a dressing from the fridge. You have earned better!
Try one of these light dressings that won’t hide the explosive experience about to hit your palette.
Classic lemon and olive oil
This is a very easy dressing that is useful for strong-flavored leaf salads, such as rocket, mizuna, or mustard leaves. My first boss, the chef Bruno Loubet, used to add a little water to this dressing (maybe a teaspoon) to thin it slightly and give it more delicacy.
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Whisk together, taste and adjust seasoning.
Leon House Dressing
This will add real punch to those freshly grown lettuce leaves.
3 Tablespoons dijon mustard
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/3 cup rapeseed oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Combine the mustard and vinegar in a blender. While still running, slowly add the rapeseed oil until you have a fully emulsified dressing. Season carefully.
Red Onion and Shallot
Top this off with goat’s cheese or feta.
1 red onion or shallot
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Combine the onion, vinegar, and sugar, then season. Leave for about an hour. Then add the olive oil and stir well.
Honey and Mustard
For those who prefer something sweeter. Also, a great dressing to go with avocado halves. Simply whisk it all together and season.
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp runny honey
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
Salt and black pepper
Honey and Mustard with Walnut
This is a lovely addition to the above Honey and Mustard dressing. Finish with chopped chives.
3.5 oz. walnuts
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A drizzle of olive oil
Mix the walnuts with the other ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 4 for 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Crush gently and add to the honey and mustard dressing above along with 1 tbsp of walnut oil.
Best for drizzling over fresh tomatoes, grilled courgettes or a tomato salad.
A bunch of basil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
A pinch of salt and black pepper
Remove the leaves from the basil and blend with the rest of the ingredients.