Grow your own salad

With our mostly mild weather, Rogue Valley gardeners can grow their own salads about nine months of the year. Blistering summer heat may limit what greens we can grow, but spring and fall are ideal, with perhaps no month kinder to tender greens than April.

Salad greens prefer cool, sunny weather. Most can tolerate frosts, though some varieties are more sensitive to freeze damage than others. Most mature in a fairly short time (30 to 40 days), which means you'll have to replant often to have a steady supply through the year.

While lettuce is the most popular salad green in most gardens, choices abound for the gourmet, including spinach, Swiss chard, endive, arugula, beets, collards, radicchio, kale, mustard and a full array of Asian greens. Plant individual rows of each or combine seeds for a "mesclun mix."

While nursery transplants are available for many greens, they are easily grown from seed. If you're in a hurry to get going, you might plant a row or two of transplants at the same time as seeds, giving yourself an earlier and extended harvest.

Fast-maturing varieties, including mesclun mixes, pac choi and leaf lettuce, are best sown every 14 days from March through May to ensure an extended harvest.

Amending the soil prior to planting may be crucial to overall success. Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of aged manure or compost to the soil, along with bone meal (3 cups per 100 square feet), kelp meal (2 cups per 100 square feet) and 13-13-13 fertilizer (2 cups per 100 square feet). Turn the mix into the soil, rake smooth, set down soaker hoses and get ready to plant.

Harvesting is the joy of the salad garden. Each plant is picked in its own unique way. Early lettuce and endive plants can be harvested by removing the lower/outer leaves, which encourages new growth. This method can be performed twice per plant per week on average. Once the second crop of lettuce starts to come in, the strategy changes to pulling up the entire plant. Harvesting every other plant in the row helps to thin the planting and give remaining plants more growing space.

When it comes to pests, the major problems are slugs and snails. When the weather warms, earwigs become troublesome. All three are nocturnal pests and can be handpicked by journeying to the garden with a flashlight on a nighttime search-and-destroy mission.

Saucers or margarine-type containers of beer placed at ground level serve as bait stations for slugs and snails. Gather the mollusks up each morning and destroy them or share the bounty with your chickens. Over-the-counter baits are available for all three pests. It is important to determine what is actually doing the damage, then take proper action.

Local nurseries or the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener Plant Clinic (541-776-7371, ext 204) are both great resources to help solve garden problems.

David James has been writing gardening stories in Southern Oregon for 35 years. Contact him at

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