Salads can be a year-round experience
It is said that a salad made for King Henry VIII contained more than 150 ingredients. Today, some salads contain a few pieces of lettuce and a slice of tomato. But there is no need to be so parsimonious with your salad ingredients.
No matter where you are you can grow enough vegetables year round to create tasty and nutritious salads with at least a half dozen ingredients. The base of most salads is lettuce, but can be a variety of greens. In summer when it is too hot for greens, you can make a salad of red onions, tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini with a few herbs.
In winter when many greens are frozen, you can make salads from root crops that have been softened by charring or baking for a few minutes before adding them to a salad.
Growing lettuce: Even though lettuce is a green plant and likes cool weather, it does not like heavy frost, so growing lettuce in the cold winter months anywhere north of Georgia requires either a greenhouse or cold frame. If it is not heated, forget about lettuce from November to March.
However, all is not lost; you can grow spinach and a variety of Chinese greens that will easily substitute for lettuce. Of course, if your greenhouse is heated, it is easy to grow lettuce and other greens in the greenhouse. I have successfully grown lettuce, spinach and snow peas in gutters running through the greenhouse or fastened to the back walls using hydroponic methods where water is run through the gutters twice daily. Lettuce grown this way is available from late September through mid-May when the outdoor lettuce begins to appear.
Other salad greens: Baby bok choy, spinach, New Zealand spinach, joi choi, roquette, arugual, mache, endive and even dandelion can be grown throughout the year to supplement your salad bowl.
Virtually all the plants are easily grown, although you will have to keep slugs off the bok choy and joi choi. In addition, the Chinese greens will survive a moderate frost and can be preserved even longer by covering them with a spun fleece. I find that I can preserve the winter greens in the cool greenhouse through January and February by covering it with either bubble wrap or spun fleece.
Snow peas: Snow or sugar snap peas make a very crunchy addition to a salad. Snow or sugar snap peas grow best during cool weather. Outdoors you can get snow or sugar snap peas for your salad from May onwards. If you have a cold frame, you can extend your growing season from about March to late November. Because I have a greenhouse, I grow at least three harvests of snow peas, one in March on the back wall of the heated space, another in May in the cool greenhouse, and a third crop outdoors in June. I’ve found that a fourth crop can be obtained in the fall by planting in September.
Tomato salads: Tomatoes like heat, but lettuce does not like heat, so growing tomatoes and lettuce together is very difficult and only occurs in late fall. But that should not stop you from growing tomatoes for your salad tray. Try growing Sweet 100 tomatoes in hanging baskets indoors in late winter, early spring. These tiny tomatoes can be used to provide extra zest to a green salad.
If you run out of lettuce, mix tomatoes with sliced zucchini and cover with chopped basil, thyme and oregano for a tasty summer treat. Or you can just slice beefsteak tomatoes and cover with basil, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a cool refreshing lunch salad. Spread the same on toasted French bread for a complete lunch or cover with cheddar or Parmesan cheese and grill until the cheese melts.
Root salads: In winter when there is little else left in the garden, you can pull a few carrots, some turnip, maybe a couple of beets and add a parsnip. There are several ways to make a salad. You can simply grate them and sprinkle chopped herbs over them or you can set them on a tray, dribble olive oil over them and roast them in a hot oven. Take the vegetables out of the oven and chop or grate them, dribble olive oil over them and some chopped herbs for a tasty winter salad.
In short, there is no reason not to produce a salad from your garden all year round. It just takes a little ingenuity to find the perfect mix of vegetables that are available for harvest at the right time.