Home Grown Triffids

I promise this isn’t an “ooh, look at me: I’m Glaswegian and I eat salad, how thoroughly cosmopolitan of me!” boast. It’s just some top tips on growing salad and getting your kids to eat it. Honestly, the minxes actually have been!

lettuceRemember in May I started turning our front lawn into an edible garden with raised beds, trees and bushes? Well, after a lot of faffing around with bonfires, I realised that having a whole bed devoted to making fires to toast marshmallows over was far too self-indulgent. And the neighbours would get unhappy with the smells, never mind the sight of us 5 hunkered over a little fire every evening. So eventually I planted garlic, runner beans, a couple of brussels sprouts, rainbow chard and lettuce in the square sunken bed.

I didn’t just chuck the seeds in: I got Midi to help me make a wee nursery for the lettuces and kept them sheltered until they’d grown a few leaves. It was really easy, fun for her, and it used up empty kitchen roll tubes – bonus! Want to know how?

  • First 6 lettuces ready to go, at the end of May

    First 6 lettuces ready to go, at the end of May

    Get your kitchen roll tube and fold in one end. (No fancy origami – just press on one edge till a curved flap folds over to almost cover the open end, then do the same at the edge below. The 2 flaps should overlap).

  • Fold over the other end with 2 flaps in the same way.
  • Use scissors to snip 2 crosses in the top of the roll, about an inch across each.
  • Open one end of the tube and fill it with compost. Refold the flaps.
  • Open out the teeny flaps made by the crosses.
  • Poke a teeny lettuce seed into the middle of each open cross with the end of a pencil, a stubby finger or tweezers.
  • Place the tube on something non-drip, like a plastic fruit container lid or a tray.
  • Water through the crosses.
  • Leave outside to germinate.
  • Water when needed.

When you have decent-sized seedlings, and before the tube’s cardboard disintegrates, just put the roll flat wherever you want the lettuces to grow. I just plonked my tubes on the sunken bed, on the compost. The tubes disintegrated with all the rain and damp, just as the lettuces put down roots into the compost. Every night now I go out with a minx and get her to cut a few leaves off the outside of some of the lettuces for a salad for dinner. Sometimes I have to brush off a slug or 2, but there’s plenty for us all. And the beautiful thing is that more leaves grow, so I always have fresh salad a few feet away from me.

If you don’t have kitchen roll tubes, you can use eggboxes filled with compost. The Boss found that a huge clear plastic strawberry punnet from the supermarket perfectly fits over a 15-egg box to turn it into a free seed propagator or cloche. It’s even easier than the kitchen rolls:

  • Using only the base of the eggbox that held the eggs, fill it with compost
  • Put a seed in each eggcup and push it into the compost by a few millimeters.
  • Place the box on something non-drip, and water the compost.
  • Put the plastic punnet over the top.
  • When you’ve got seedlings, and before the cardboard disintegrates, either place the box on the soil, or cut it into individual eggcups and spread out over the soil surface.
yellow and red baby chard

yellow and red baby chard

I also grew rainbow chard because it’s pretty, but have found that the kids really like the taste of the baby leaves. I’ve got red, yellow, orange and white stems sprouting up and they look just like baby beetroot leaves (that’s in another bed). I treat chard like the lettuces: every night I cut off a few of the outer leaves with scissors. I try to eat the leaves before they’re any longer than 5 or 6″. After that, although they’re a beautiful, colourful, ornamental plant, they’re too woody to be eaten raw: you’d really need to chop up the stems and cook them. Which tastes great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit too much of a faff for me.

rainbow saladSo what with the baby beetroot leaves, rainbow chard and 4 different lettuces, it’s a riot of rainbows in the salad bowl every night. The kids grab the leaves by their stalks and dunk them in a communal jam-jar of simple oil and vinegar salad dressing, like they would with chips and ketchup. The salads are pretty enough that they don’t need the nasturtium flowers I grew alongside the vegetables to prettify them any further. Besides, I did something wrong and the nasturtiums have grown foot-wide leaves and are taking over the beetroot bed like triffids, but that’s another disaster story for another time…

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