Salad greens growing tips and recipes

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What to grow

Salad greens are one of the best things you can grow in a kitchen garden, and spring is the ideal time to get started. As well as growing lettuce, and there are many varieties to choose from, it’s good to add variety to your salad with other greens such as rocket, mizuna, baby spinach and the classic mix of salad greens called ‘mesclun’. Yates Mesclun seeds, for example, include endive, corn salad, rocket, chicory and various lettuce in different leaf colours – all in the one seed packet.

Seed or seedling?

Plant both! Last weekend I bought one punnet of lettuce ‘Combo’ seedlings, which is a mixture of different lettuce types (red and green Cos, plus red and green Mignonette), plus one packet of mesclun seed and one packet of rocket seeds. The Combo seedlings will provide my first crops in just a few weeks, but I also sowed just a few seeds of mesclun and a little patch of rocket, too. The idea is that by the time I’ve finished harvesting the Combo lettuces, the mesclun and rocket should be belting along nicely, ready to harvest when needed. Once the Combo lettuces have finished, I’ll either replace them with another punnet of seedlings, or if I’m really well organised, I’ll just sow some more seeds there and they’ll come up just as the first crop of seed-grown plants starts to fade.

Several small crops

The best way to get organised with salad greens is to sow several small crops, each a couple of weeks apart.

Growing tips

Salad greens taste best when grown rapidly in well-fertilised soil in lots of sunshine, and with a steady supply of water. Prepare the soil well beforehand: add plenty of chicken poo (eg, Dynamic Lifter) and compost and dig it in well.

To plant seedlings: just remove each seedling from the punnet and put it into the soil, and firm around the base of the plant with your fingers so it’s snug in the ground. Check the label to get the plant spacings right (around 25-30cm apart is average). I always water in all seedlings with a watering can, to which I’ve added a capful of Seasol – this encourages the roots to grow and helps plants settle in.

To plant seed: I just scatter the seed lightly over the soil surface, then lightly cover the seed with a sprinkling of seed-raising mix, to barely cover the seed (but you can just cover the seed with a thin layer of soil, if you like). Then I lightly water it with a mist sprayer. Keep the seed-raising mix moist, and the seeds should come up soon. Rocket is incredibly fast to sprout, often popping up in just four or so days. Lettuce will take a bit longer to sprout, usually, about seven to 14 days.

Growing in pots: salad greens go well in pots. Just choose a sunny spot for your pot, use the biggest pot you can fit in there and fill it with good quality potting mix (don’t buy cheap stuff – make sure your potting mix has the Australian Standards ‘ticks’ logo). The main problem with pots is that they dry out faster, so you’ll need to be very good about keeping the pot watered.

Fertilising and care: in fact, keeping crops of salad greens well watered is the main job for salad green grown either in pots or in the ground. Also keep them growing steadily by giving them a liquid feed (mixed up in a watering can) every fortnight. I use Nitrosol, but there are plenty of good alternatives.

Growing and eating rocket

This salad green needs its own special mention, because a lot of people don’t like the flavour, saying it’s too peppery or ‘hot’. What they’re eating is old, horrible rocket. And a lot of restaurants serve up old, horrible rocket in salads – with leaves that are about 100mm (four inches) long, or even longer. The best rocket to eat is baby rocket, very young rocket, and that’s almost impossible to find in supermarkets. I get all my rocket by growing my own and harvesting it young, when it’s about 50mm (two inches) tall. When it’s young, it’s sweet and nutty and lovely. Rocket grows super-fast, so fast that you could grow and eat two crops of rocket in the time it takes to grow and consume one crop of lettuce. I often see ‘seedlings’ of rocket for sale in nurseries that are already too big and old to eat. This is definitely a salad green that is best grown from seed and harvested young, at home. If you didn’t like the old peppery rocket dished up to you earlier on, give it another chance and grow your own!



1. Try a different vinegar

There are dozens of different vinegars in good delis and department store food halls, and each of them can turn a plain dressing into something really special. Try Sherry Vinegar, for example. I won’t try to describe the flavour, but it is rich, sweetish and worth trying.

Sherry Vinegar Dressing

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a jar, and shake. Use as dressing. 

2. How to tame a Thai dressing

Thai dressings are based on ultra-strong flavours of fish sauce and lime juice, and I find that adding tap water takes the rip-roaring bite out of both.

Easy Thai-Style Salad Dressing

1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon water
pinch sugar
pinch chilli powder

Combine ingredients in a jar, and shake. Use as dressing.  

3. Try balsamic vinegar on its own as the dressing.

Who says dressings need to be mixtures? This salad just uses balsamic vinegar, which is a thick,  sweet, aged vinegar with a great flavour.

Pumpkin, Walnut & Rocket Salad

250g butternut pumpkin
1 tablespoon olive oil
80g walnuts, roughly chopped
125g rocket leaves (or rocket and other mixed salad leaves)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Peel the pumpkin, cut into 1.5 cm cubes and toss into a bowl. Pour the olive oil over the pumpkin, season with salt and pepper, and toss so the cubes are coated with oil. Arrange pumpkin on a baking dish and bake for about 35 minutes, or until cooked (check one cube with a skewer after about half an hour). Let the pumpkin cool while you make the rest of the salad.

2. Heat a non-stick frypan over medium heat then toss in the walnuts for about 60 seconds, stirring all the time, until they just change colour. Remove from the pan and let them cool.

3. Next, wash, dry and tear up your rocket leaves and other salad greens. Add the pumpkin and walnuts, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, toss to coat all the ingredients lightly, then serve immediately as a side dish.