Tender, delicious salad greens are one of the easiest crops for the small farmer. For hobby farmers and homesteaders, they are a staple for the table and can save you bundles of money, especially compared to the prewashed plastic clamshells of baby greens that you find at the supermarket.
And did I mention salad greens are easy to grow? They're delicious, too, and when you grow your own you can pick the varieties that you put into a signature mix. The cut-and-come-again method that I'm going to explain below will keep you harvesting tender baby greens for months on end.
Choose Varieties of Salad Greens
The first step in becoming a salad farmer is to choose the mix of greens that you like best. Let your palate guide you: do you prefer sharp, spicy greens like mustard, or tender, sweet lettuces like baby romaine? Of course the beauty of a mix is that you can have both together if you like. What shapes, textures and colors do you want the final mix to have?
Some popular salad mix greens:
- Asian greens: mizuna, savoy, tat soi
- Mustard greens: golden frill, green wave, ruby streaks
- Kale: white russian, red russian, lacinato
- Lettuce: red leaf, green leaf, red romaine
As a small farmer who may be selling at the farmers market, taking the time to perfect a signature mix can add to your salad greens' appeal to consumers. So invest a bit of time in this step before bringing your mix to market. What is going to distinguish your greens from all the others out there?
Prepare Your Soil
You can have your soil tested to find out what amendments are necessary.
You can also use raised beds for growing salad greens. Raised beds are important in areas with poor drainage or lots of rain.
Plant the Seeds
Follow the information on the seed packet that accompanies your seeds, or from your seed supplierLINK's website. Salad greens typically are sprinkled on top of the soil and only lightly covered with soil, as they require some light to germinate. How to Start Seeds
Fertilize Your Salad Greens
A small amount of kelp can be added when you plant your seeds for additional fertilization, but often the soil amendments that you add at the beginning of the season are enough. You can water baby greens with a diluted liquid kelp fertilizer or fish emulsion every two weeks.
Care of Your Salad Greens
Insects can sometimes nibble on tender baby greens, especially cole crops like kale. Row covers can help protect against insect damage, especially if you're experiencing heavy damage. Keeping your greens healthy with plenty of fertilizer from the start helps deter insects.
Harvest Your Salad Greens
A "cut and come again" harvesting method works great for baby greens. Within 30 days, usually, the greens will be ready for harvest. They're ready when they reach whatever size you desire for your salads. Use a sharp knife, scissors, or specialized salad green harvesting equipment to cut the leaves above the tender growing center of the plant. This way, the tiny new leaves continue to grow and you get another harvest from the same sowing. Typically you can harvest two to three times (once each week) from one sowing of salad greens.
Salad Greens That Bolt
One problem I've run into with mixes is that some varieties are more prone to bolt, or shoot upward and go to seed, in hot weather, than others. So I'll walk out to the garden in early July and find that the Asian mustard greens have bolted but the rest of the greens are fine. Try to match temperature sensitivity when making your seed mixes, but if you experience bolting, you can simply yank those plants from the root and allow the rest of the greens to fill in.
Succession Planting Salad Greens
Most varieties of salad mixes are ready in 30 days, so sowing seeds roughly every three weeks will allow you to have the second planting ready to go right as your first planting is done.