Tuesday, 15 October 2013

home salad farm

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A year or two ago I realised I really wanted to grow more vegies, I had the romantic idea of drifting around the garden each evening with a basket harvesting. At the time the few vegie plants I grew were squeezed into the rare vacant spots in the garden, but gave me lots of satisfaction. Luckily I love a mix and match garden and find vegies quite beautiful in their own right, to me they fit in between the ornamentals seamlessly, so we pulled some other stuff out and made new spaces.

Each season since then we have added and improved our vegie plots, eking a bit of sunny space here and there, and of course recently added our raised apple box planters. And one of the things our little inner city garden is best at is salad farming. We grow a wide range of salad ingredients now as you can see from the pic at the top.

Quick salad crops fit in well around our long summer holiday when the garden has to fend for itself and don't hog large parts of garden real estate for extended periods. And they fill that hungry gap between winter and summer crops quickly.


Also we eat salad five or six times a week, so its cost saving as well, unlike some crops I've grown before only to find a cheap glut of at the greengrocer when I'm harvesting my own.

It goes without saying that salad is a million times better with fresh produce, because its raw you can taste its wonderful freshness in every bite.

Did you know that leafy plants grow well in semi shade, if it fruits or roots it needs sun but many leafy plants will thrive in that shady spot in your garden, that's something I learned. And most of these plants will grow in pots happily too if you don't have available beds.

I'm no expert, I'm still learning vegie growing, but I'm a fan, and here's my thoughts on what I'm growing:

I think Cos lettuce is hard to grow well. It doesn't like leaf harvesting and often bolts to seed in our garden. Mesclun types like oak leaf, mignonette and butter lettuces on the other hand are real cut and come again heroes. And they look so pretty mixed together. I grow these from seed planted direct though I recently read they won't germinate in hotter conditions. This year I've been collecting my own seeds from plants allowed to go to seed, but an easy way to get new types is a mixed punnet from the local garden centre.

I found out this year that there are actually two types of rocket. The large leafed annual rocket and the smaller leafed perennial wild rocket. If you're not sure which type you have, salad has white flowers and larger leaves, and wild rocket yellow flowers and small serated leaves. This is my first year with wild and I will be interested to see how well the plants last. I usually make repeat sowings of the salad rocket as it bolts to seed quickly, and I do love its pretty flowers.

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Peas and beans
I love purple beans for the decorative splash they bring the garden. Scarlet runner beans have great red flowers. Peas are hit and miss for me, but the plants I have in this year, from a few sowings, are looking good. Broad beans were a new crop last year and fresh broad (fava) beans are a revelation. They have none of the bitterness of bought pods and I pop them fresh into the salad as they are or steam them for a couple of minutes to soften. Delicious, I promise. Sow seed at the end of winter for a spring harvest.

Chard, Spinach, Kale
Chard is the ultimate backyard plant. A few plants give continuously for months and I use the small leaves in salads and the larger leaves in canneloni and quiches. Just recently I added kale to my repertoire and I love the ornamental qualities these plants have, and rumour has it they a superfood. They also grow forever. Baby spinach is delicious in salads, full of vitamins and the plants are a lovely splash of green.

A new addition to my salads this year is the beautiful red veined sorrel gifted to me as seedlings. It is such a pretty plant and the slightly lemony salad leaves are a lovely addition to the leaf mix.

Another gifted seedling, I love the colour of my purple cabbage plants, I've been harvesting young leaves and slicing them up before adding their slight crunch to the salad. Fingers crossed they make a head soon and I can have homegrown coleslaw!
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Coriander is another bolter which is remedied by repeat plantings. The seeds are quick to come up and the small plants can just be sown in any available gaps. Basil we cheat and grow from one cheap punnet bought early in the season in its own dedicated pot, so pretty. Its a great addition to onion, tomato, fetta salads when we're out of lettuce. Mint is another great addition and freshens any salad. Nasturtium doesn't quite qualify as a herb but its peppery bite is a great addition.

I'm using the tiniest baby beet leaves in my salads and also grating in fully grown raw beetroot into salad or roasting them with a slick of olive oil.

After a few disappointing years trying to grow full size tomatoes, I've resigned myself quite happily to the realisation that in Sydney, with our fruit fly problems, small cherry or grape tomato plants are the safest and happiest in our garden. I like the way they keep a ready ongoing crop too, so you always have a couple of tomatoes when you need them. The tiny red tomatoes in my photo are from a plant that survived winter in a very protected spot against a north facing wall and is still producing. My other favourite is the yellow pear variety which is very prolific and has a long season, so long in fact I used it to make green tomato pickles last winter!
Radishes and carrots
The quickest crops, and a great splash of colour when sliced through your salad. Plant in repeat batches so you always have some on hand.

Spring Onions
The spring onions in the top picture were actually regrown from cut off rooted ends from purchased spring onions. I'd read about this online and to my great pleasure it works. Just cut an inch off and poke them into the soil then harvest the green ends for cut and come again.

One other piece of advice I came across this year and have taken to heart is to plant something each week. Formerly I would have brief periods of action when I bought and planted everything at once. With this new method I am filling gaps as I go, after harvesting another crop, or if seed haven't come up or have failed to grow.

p.s. Aren't these vegie photos on Kate's blog beautiful.


  1. I love this! Your salad garden is amazing. Growing up in the city, this is exactly what all of our Greek and Italian neighbours did in their backyards, utilising every inch of space and having enough produce to give away to a lot of us in the street

  2. That first picture could be made into a print, its beautiful.

  3. You've actuall managed to make healthy look yummy!!! :-)

  4. You have done an amazing job! Love that first picture.

  5. Planting something each week is a great idea, something like 5 radishes, 5 beetroot, a few greeny/salady things etc..
    My favourite in our garden in Kale. I make kale chips and can scoff a whole bowl while watching TV without feeling the least bit guilty.


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