Digging for when the Canned Goods Run Out #5: Salads

As April showers hopefully fade away towards May flowers, now is a good time to start planting your salad vegetables. Of course, you may have been growing some of these under cover or inside already, but that may not be an option if you’re holed up in a bunker, or even if, like me, your bolt-hole simply doesn’t have any south-facing windows. So, for some of you, now might be the time to start planting out your cucumbers and so forth, but for the rest of us, we can start thinking about sowing directly into the ground.

A great place to start is with salad leaves themselves. You may wish to grow full-fledged lettuces, in which case give generous room, in accordance with the instructions for your variety. However, if your stores of dried goods are depleting fast there’s no reason not to embrace the ‘cut-and-come-again’ strategy. Assuming you followed our advice and looted a goodly supply of seed on your way out of the city you should find yourself with an ample supply of salad leaf seed. Seed packets typically contain hundreds of seeds, so don’t be over-cautious; with the cut-and-come-again strategy you can afford to be generous with your sowing.

Click image for awesome gardening blog.

Prepare the ground by de-weeding as suggested in our previous posts and then smooth the surface – but don’t press down on it! You want to avoid compacting the soil as much as possible. Next, using the edge of a trowel (or just your finger) create a shallow (about one centimetre) trough and dampen it with water. If possible place a marker (anything will do, but a straight stick is good) so you won’t forget where you’ve sowed your seed once you’ve covered it up. Now sprinkle the seed into your trough. Don’t worry about spacing, ignore the instructions on the packet, they’re for if you intended to grow the plant to its full size, and we don’t want that. Cover over the soil and water along the line again to damp the soil down.

I’ve recommended planting in rows as it’s easier to remember where you put your plants. If you do plant in rows you may want to leave 15cm or so between them. However, you could also just liberally sprinkle a small area with seed and them cover over with soil or compost. This method works well for growing in containers, which is great if you’re hemmed in by zombies somewhere without much space for a proper garden.

The seeds will take a few weeks to germinate, and a few more to get big enough to eat, but in the world of grow-your-own it’s a pretty swift return. And the real beauty is that when you come to pick you’re not taking the whole plant. Simply take your scissors (or even carefully pluck with your fingers, if you’re lazy, like me) and nip off the outer leaves from the plants. As long as you leave the smaller, younger leaves in the centre of the plant alone it will be fine, and regular picking will help stop the plant from ‘bolting’ – which is what gardeners call it when a plant starts producing flowers and stops devoting energy to producing leaves, leading it to get tall and thin and not very useful.

Now, you may be thinking: ‘But salad is boring!’ Well, my friend, you’ve just been eating the wrong salad. Iceberg lettuce is dull as anything, but salad leaves like rocket and mustard can be just what you need to create a really tasty, spicy dish. Most garden centres will offer spicy salad seed mixes, and many general salad leaf mixes will include a bit of rocket amongst the milder leaves like lambs lettuce.

Spring onion seeds are tiny and black.

Still, even cut-and-come-again leaves do not a salad make. Why not plant some spring onions (aka scallions or salad onions)? The clue’s in the name – spring is an ideal time to get these in, although you can keep on planting them into the summer if you water the seeds well. Again, these are easy and grow fast. Packets recommend to sow thinly (an inch apart), but in my experience it’s better to take a similar method to that described above. Spring onion seed tends to be sold in large quantities, but they’re unreliable germinators. If lots come through you can thin them out later (either taking the young plants to eat, or carefully transplanting them elsewhere to grow with more room).

And, of course, there’s the old staple of the beginner gardener: the radish. These are easy and very quick. Plant seeds 1cm deep in drills 3cms apart, leaving 15cms between rows. They should be ready to pick in 6-8weeks. If you plant a row a week you should have a steady supply throughout the summer. Don’t plant them all at once, though, or you’ll have more radishes than you can eat before they go off, and if you leave them in the ground too long they will go woody and inedible.

Another great salad plant is the cucumber. These are best grown in greenhouses, but as they tend to be very productive you can plant them outside straight into the ground in May. The cucumbers will be smaller, but unless you’re very northerly you should still do well (for perspective I’m based in North Yorkshire). These are big plants, though, so no planting in rows – you want to leave about two feet between each plant. If you can’t start them off inside plant two seeds together in case one doesn’t germinate – keep the stronger plant once they come through. Cucumbers are vines, so you may wish to train them against canes to keep the cucumbers away from pests, although they can be left to rest on the ground, but this can be done later in the year, once the young plants have been established.

You’ve now got the makings for a really nice salad, as well as tasty additions to sandwiches for the Apocalypse Girl on the move.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

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