There are so many salad ingredients to choose from and once you’ve chosen which you’re going to grow, there a multitude of varieties.

This is a perfect subject for experimentation. Sure, grow your favourites but try a few different ones, too. There is a world of taste to explore and nothing beats the flavour of your own freshly picked leaves and fruit.

These general rules for a couple of the stalwarts of summer salads broadly apply to the more unusual varieties.

Salad leaves

Growing your own leaves saves you considerable money and it reduces the inevitable waste resulting from leaves going off in the fridge. They also taste fantastic.

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In summer salad leaves can be direct sown outdoors and in autumn and winter in an unheated greenhouse. They thrive in fertile, well prepared and moist soil either in sun or semi shade.

Seeds need to be sown thinly 1cm deep in drills 38cm apart. Seedlings for baby leaves need to be thinned out to 10cm apart and mature plants 30cm once they’re large enough to handle.

They require regular watering and hoeing between to minimise weeds. Dry weather can cause plants to bolt so keep watering, especially before harvest. A mulch can help moisture retention.

Harvest baby salad leaves by picking a few leaves from each plant and harvest mature plants by pulling up the entire plant before trimming off the stem with a knife.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers can be sown indoors and out, depending on the variety, so check before you buy the seeds.

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Sow cucumber seeds from early March to April for indoor cropping and for transplanting outdoors later on. Outdoor (ridge) varieties may also be direct sown outdoors from May to June.

Sow cucumber seed on its side 1cm deep in 7.5cm pots of seed sowing compost. Place in a propagator or seal container inside a plastic bag at a temperature of 20 degrees C until germination, between 7-10 days.

Grow plants on at a minimum temperature of 15 degrees C and keep the compost moist but not wet.

When cucumber plants are well grown, transplant them at a spacing of 45cm apart in a warm, humid greenhouse.

Outdoor varieties need to be hardened off to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before transplanting into warm, well drained, humus rich soil in a sheltered spot with full sun.

Plant outdoor cucumbers in single rows 90cm apart and water well until they are fully established.

Cucumbers need regular watering and they thrive in high humidity so keep spraying and dampening down paths.

Climbing cucumbers produce higher yields when allowed to climb. Train the main shoots onto 1.8m high nets, canes or strings until they reach the top of their support and then pinch out the growing point. Pinch out sideshoots once fruit begins to develop, leaving two leaves after each fruit. Remove male flowers from greenhouse types.

Outdoor ridge types can be pinched out at the main stem after seven leaves have formed to encourage sideshoots. These need pollination by insects so don’t remove male flowers from these varieties.

Harvest regularly to encourage long continuous production and pick the fruits when young and tender before they show signs of producing seeds, as older fruits can become bitter. Harvesting cucumbers is best done early in the morning when temperatures remain cool.

Radishes

Direct sow radish seeds from February to March under glass, or from April to August outdoors. They prefer moist and fertile seedbeds in full sun or semi shade.

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Sow the seeds thinly 1cm deep in drills 15cm apart then when large enough to handle, thin seedlings out to 2.5cm apart.

Sowing every month gives a steady supply of radishes throughout the summer. Radish plants grow fast and make good intercroppers between other slower growing vegetables such as parsnips. Radishes also grow well in containers.

Keep plants cool and well-watered but avoid over watering as this encourages leaf rather than root growth.

Harvest three to four weeks after sowing when roots reach a reasonable size.

Mustard cress

A delicious salad and sandwich ingredient, mustard cress takes up barely any space or time and, no matter how old are you, is fascinating to watch grow.

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Any time of the year, sow a packet of cress and a packet of mustard either in the same container or in separate containers. Make sure to sow the mustard three days after the cress so that they’re both ready at the same time.

These seeds can be grown in trays of compost or on the surface of pads of cotton wool, on kitchen towel or even in eggshells! Place the trays or other material in a small container or saucer and moisten well, then spread the seed thickly over the surface. Place in a polythene bag and leave in a warm dark place.

Keep the seeds dark until after germination and then move to a warm well-lit spot ensuring that the medium stays moist. They are ready to cut around a week or so after sowing.

Chives

This perennial member of the onion family is undemanding and easy to grow.

Grown outside it attracts bees and butterflies to its edible flowers and it also makes an excellent companion plant to deter carrot fly and other pests.

Alternatively grow them indoors or under glass from March to June. Sow in pots or trays on the surface of barely moist seed compost. Cover with a sprinkling of finely sieved compost and place in a propagator at 18-21 degrees C until germination which takes two to three weeks.

When seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm pots in bunches of four seedlings per pot and grow on in cooler conditions. Gradually acclimatise chive plants to outdoor conditions over a week or so before planting them outdoors 30cm apart after the last frost has passed.

Once established, chives require little aftercare. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps in spring.

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This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. For your copy subscribe here or call 01778 392011.