Salads fresh from the garden are one of the highlights of spring and summer. No grocery store vegetable will ever match the flavor of a vegetable you’ve tended yourself. Growing your own salad is easier than you think! No matter what kind of space, money, or gardening experience you have, check out the options below to start planning your salad garden.
Spring in the garden means plenty of cool weather tolerant leafy greens, perfect for creating spring salads. When paired with other spring vegetables like broccoli, peas, chives, and root vegetables, you can make delicious combinations.
Most lettuce varieties have a tendency to bolt in hot weather, so you’ll want to start your lettuce about two weeks before the last expected frost date (about April 1 for Davidsonville). You can grow looseleaf, Bibb, or romaine type lettuces, depending on your preference. For those with limited space, it’s often best to choose a looseleaf “cut and come again” mix, which will provide multiple harvests.
As another cool weather green, spinach should be direct-sown (seeds planted right in the garden) in the early spring. Like looseleaf lettuce, you can often get multiple harvests. Begin harvesting spinach when the leaves are 3-4 inches tall. You can either harvest the outer leaves (leaving about a third of the plant) or cut the whole plant near the base and allow it to re-sprout. If you go this route, take care not to cut off the growing tip at the base of the plant.
Onions can be started from seed, sets, or transplants in early spring. While larger onions for storage won’t reach maturity until later in the season, bunching onions will be ready to harvest during the late spring and early summer. C
Carrots are fun and easy to grow. Plant one row every two weeks through late May to get multiple harvests. If you want your children to eat more carrots, growing a rainbow mix can be an exciting twist.
Radishes are some of the easiest vegetables to grow, and some varieties are ready to harvest in as little as 21 days. Their cold tolerance makes them perfect for spring gardens, and they’ll add just a touch of zest to a fresh salad. Direct sow these fast-growing root vegetables. The tops are edible, too!
If your childhood memories include ample amounts of canned or pickled beets, they might not be first on your list for a salad garden. However, fresh beets are surprisingly sweet and tasty. They complement spring greens well, and they are an excellent salad base themselves when paired with grated ginger and carrots. Young beet leaves are tasty salad additions, and larger leaves can be steamed like spinach or Swiss chard.
Transplant broccoli plants into the garden in the early spring. The first harvest will be the large, main head. After you cut off the head, many plants will grow smaller side shoots, giving you a second harvest of smaller shoots.
There are several varieties of chard, but many people prefer rainbow chard (five-color silverbeet) for its yellow, pink, red, white, and orange stalks. It has a mild flavor, but it can add bulk and color to any salad. It will also go to seed much later than other cool weather greens, allowing you to continue to harvest as the summer progresses.
A hardy perennial, chives will start growing in early spring and are an easy way to add a lot of flavor to your salads. Simply snip the leaves and toss them in with salad greens. Chives grow well in containers, so they’re a great choice if you’re renting.
One of the most cold-tolerant greens, kale will provide fresh leaves early in the season. Smaller kale leaves are excellent in salad mixes during the spring.
This lacy herb offers a lot of flavor to any salad. Dill doesn’t like to be transplanted, so it’s best to start from seed. Sow in the garden outside after all danger of frost has passed. Dill is a larval host plant for some butterflies, so if you see caterpillars eating some of your plants, leave them alone.
As summer temperatures climb, early spring vegetables will be replaced by the stars of summer: slow-growing, heat-loving vegetables. Together, these vegetables make an excellent panzanella salad when paired with crunchy chunks of bread and a vinegar dressing.
The easiest way to grow peppers is to plant transplants into the garden as soon as nighttime temperatures are consistently 60 degrees or higher. Use scissors to snip ripe peppers from the plants so you don’t accidentally yank the whole plant out of the garden.
Cucumbers are a productive addition to any garden. They can also be made into pickles, but if canning isn’t your idea of a fun summer project, you may not need to plant as many cucumber seeds as you’d think. For fresh eating, plan on about 2-3 plants per person in your household. If you have a small space, consider growing vining cucumbers vertically on a sturdy trellis. (There are also bush types that don’t require a trellis.)
A garden favorite of children and adults alike, tomatoes are surprisingly easy to grow at home. There are so many fun heirloom varieties, like Cherokee Purple, Big Rainbow, and Mortgage Lifters, that offer a wide selection of color, size, and flavor. For those with smaller gardens, look for “patio” or “determinate” tomatoes because they’ll take up less space and provide abundant fruit over a long period.
Eggplants love hot weather, so don’t put these in the ground too soon. They grow well in containers, but no matter where you plant them, note that they’re heavy feeders and will need to be fertilized during the season.
Fresh basil is incredible, and it’s easy to grow yourself. If grown from seed, basil should be started in early spring and transplanted out after the danger of frost has passed. Trim the flowers off the plant throughout the growing season to ensure a long harvest of tender leaves.
Super easy to grow, zucchini plants can provide a bountiful harvest. Chunks of grilled zucchini add an interesting touch to your summer salads.
You don’t have to be a farmer to grow your own salad! Even if you only have balcony space, you can grow a few of these plants in pots and enjoy homegrown food this summer. Visit Homestead Gardens for more plant inspiration or gardening advice. We’re always happy to help!