Plant a Fall Salad Garden

Plant a fall salad garden. Beauty, flavor and money in your pocket. A fall salad garden delivers it all.

| September/October 2006

Learn how easy it is to plant a fall salad garden.

Easy to grow — and beautiful to boot — salad gardens are easy to love. Plant a fall salad garden. Lettuce and other salad makings are among the first crops to plant in spring, yet their fondness for cool weather also makes them great encore crops for fall. As a self-confessed salad addict, I often spend $5 a week on ready-to-eat gourmet greens when I can’t get them from my garden — reason enough to work up a little sweat planting a second season salad garden.

It’s a simple project that leads to fast rewards. Clear off a patch of ground in a spot that’s convenient to water, sow some seeds, and a fall salad patch will start spewing out tasty tidbits in only a few weeks.

What Salad Greens to Grow?

The major player in any salad garden is lettuce (Lactuca sativa), which comes in an amazing array of colors and textures. If you have partially used seed packets of lettuce leftover from spring, start with those varieties, because shard-shaped lettuce seeds often lose viability after only a year. Did your spring crop get tall and bitter before you could eat it all? Some of the frilliest lettuce varieties can’t wait to bolt when days are getting longer and warmer in spring, but in the fall garden they hold much longer. If you need to buy lettuce seeds, starting with a mixture of varieties is an effortless way to turn your salad garden into a tapestry of colors and textures. All the mail-order seed companies (see “The Seeds You Need,” page 58 in this issue) sell various lettuce blends, often called mesclun, that include a palette of leaf colors and forms.

Spinach makes a great fall salad green, too, and in many climates fall-sown spinach can be left in the garden until spring, when the cold-ravaged plants bounce back with amazing energy. Fast-growing radishes also plump up quickly when grown in the fall, and autumn is the best season to grow buttery-tasting baby beet greens. Scallions are a bit slow to grow from seeds, but you can be assured of a ready supply of tender green onions if you buy a slender bunch with roots at the supermarket, trim the tops back by half their length, and stick them into moist soil. See “Fall Garden Standouts” on page 57 in this issue for even more great greens for your second season salad garden. Finally, stud your patch with a few fast-growing annual herbs including dill, cilantro and chervil, which sprout and grow quickly enough to provide flavorful snippets for the salad bowl.

Ready, Set, Grow Salad Greens!

All the books say that salad crops need full sun, but up to a half day of shade is beneficial when you’re planting in warm, late summer soil. If the best site you have bakes in the September sun, install a shade screen on the west side of your salad patch. A short length of snow fencing or a piece of burlap attached to stakes will do the trick.

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