Growing Fresh Salad Greens All Year Round

To take control of your health, there is no better way than to increase your intake of veggies. Most everyone knows this, but for many it is easier said than done.

At first, eating a lot of vegetables doesn’t sound too appetizing. You might envision yourself having to eat plain celery sticks or carrots, like what you’d find in a store-bought veggie tray. Or you may recall a commercial that ran in the early 2000’s for a fiber supplement, in which a woman munched on a huge head of raw broccoli while driving in her car and working out at the gym. Gross! Who would want to do that?

fresh vegetablesA much tastier alternative is to have a large salad at least once a day. There are so many salad greens to choose from, such as spicy arugula to crispy lettuce, that you can mix and match leafy greens for something new each day. Add different complementary veggies, like shredded carrots, diced tomatoes and red peppers, corn, avocado and beans, plus an array of spices and dressings to make your mouth water every time. You’ll never get bored once you start to explore the variety of salad options available to you.

Why You Should Grow Your Own Salad Greens

One of the main benefits of eating a hearty salad is that it has a low caloric density. A single salad serving might be only 300 calories, for example, but the volume of food will leave you feeling very full. Comparatively, a single cupcake could easily have 300 calories or more, but you wouldn’t be able to satisfy your hunger by making a meal out of a single cupcake.

In other words, you’ll be surprised at how large of a salad you can eat. You may even find yourself eating out of a mixing bowl! And since good health comes from consistency, not a magic pill, you really should be chowing down on a large salad at least once a day.

To make a daily salad, you’re going to need a lot of salad greens. Prepackaged greens don’t always stay fresh in your refrigerator; the sooner you use them, the better. This makes it tough to “stock up” for the week. After a while, trekking down to the grocery store every other day will get tedious, and you don’t want to have any excuses to not eat your veggies and to fall off the wagon.

On the other hand, growing your own salad greens ensures that you can have an abundant supply, fresh as can be and within easy reach. You’ll save money in the long run, since seeds are cheap compared to store-bought greens. And because it’s easy to grow your own salad greens without using pesticides, you can even reap the benefits of organic food.

And when you get right down to it, homegrown food always tastes exceptionally better than anything you will find in a store.

How to Enjoy Salad Greens All Year Round

At this point you might be thinking, “That sounds great, but I live in an apartment” or “I’ve never had a vegetable garden before” or “What am I supposed to do in the winter?” Those are all valid concerns, but salad greens are very easy to grow, don’t require much space at all and actually prefer cool weather versus hot weather.

For apartment dwellers, container gardening is an excellent way to grow salad greens. Many leafy greens, like spinach, romaine lettuce and arugula, have shallow roots, so they are perfectly content in small containers. Although most plants started from seed should be thinned to just one or two seedlings every few inches or so, leafy greens will happily grow squashed together in a container without being thinned. They will not grow quite as large as if they were thinned out, but you’ll still get plenty for your salads.

Setting out several pots of salad greens on your deck, balcony or patio is perfect. You can also put a pot in front of a sunny window (south-facing is best) if you don’t have your own outdoor space.

Most salad greens are actually cold-tolerant, which make them perfect spring and fall crops. When it gets too hot, they will bolt, which means they will stop producing tasty leaves and will instead grow flower heads and seeds. You can buy some varieties that are more heat-tolerant than others, but growing your salads indoors during the heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter is a good idea.

By choosing varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, you can ensure the likelihood that your salad greens will grow and thrive, even if you’ve never grown anything before. Use potting soil when using containers, and plenty of compost if growing outdoors. Weed thoroughly and often to make sure all of the nutrients in the soil go to your salad greens. Water when the top half-inch or so of soil is dry, or if the plants look shriveled and wilted. Mulch around the base of the plants to help stop dirt from splashing up into the leaves when you water. This will make it easier to prepare the greens when you’re ready to eat.

The great thing about salad greens is that they are a “gift that just keeps on giving.” When you’re ready to harvest the leaves, don’t pull the plant up by the roots. Instead, pinch the leaves off at the base of the stem or use a sharp knife to cut them away. New leaves will sprout up from the roots, so you can get multiple harvests out of a single seed.

Types of Salad Greens to Grow

If you thought all salads were comprised of iceberg lettuce, think again. Nutritionally speaking, iceberg lettuce doesn’t pack much of a punch. You can experience a whole range of flavors and nutrients by planting a variety of salad greens. Here are some of the most common:

  • Arugula
  • Beet greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Butterhead lettuce
  • Chard
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radicchio
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Watercress

If you’re not sure what to plant, try a taste-test first by experimenting with some recipes that incorporate one or more of these salad greens. Note that some of these salad greens taste better if lightly steamed or massaged with dressing, like kale. Others, like chard and bok choy, have wonderfully crisp stems that add a nice crunch to the salad. Arugula and mustard greens are particularly spicy, and spinach can often serve as a substitute for lettuce or kale in any recipe, since it is delicious good both raw and cooked.

Growing your own food is richly rewarding, and growing your own salad greens is the perfect place to start. It’s so easy and satisfying to nurture the seedlings and watch them grow into succulent leaves that you can quickly prepare in a salad and enjoy.

Erin Emanuel

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