GIY Nation - Project 2 - Grow your Own Salad Bowl
- 30L John Innes No. 2 Compost (garden centres)
- Plastic window box 50cm x 19cm (garden centres & hardware stores)
- Packet Mixed Baby Leaf Lettuce or Mixed Loose Leaf Salad Seeds (garden centres, hardware stores & online)
- Packet of dwarf Calendula seeds – suggest ‘Candyman Yellow’ (garden centres, online & large hardware stores)
- Tap Water
- Liquid seaweed (online & some garden centres)
How to do it?
- Ensure your container is scrubbed clean. Most containers come with ready-made drainage holes in the bottom (if using a plastic container you may need to push them out) but if there aren’t any you will have to make a few holes, approx. 0.5mm wide (use an electric drill, scissors, heated metal skewer, but adult supervision required).
- Tip the washed stones into the container so that they cover the holes without blocking them. This will allow water to drain out.
- Fill the container with the compost until it’s approximately 5cm from the rim. Firm the soil gently with the back of your hand to level it (making sure it’s not packed down too tightly).
- Water the compost so that it’s wet but not waterlogged then go and make a cup of tea and leave the compost to settle for about half an hour, allowing the water to soak through.
- Using your finger or the end of a pencil make a shallow ‘drill’ (see picture below) approx. 5cm in from the front of the container and 5mm deep.
- Carefully open the packet of mixed lettuce seeds ensuring you don’t tear off any important information.
- Empty a few seeds into your hand then sprinkle them onto the surface of the damp compost at about 1cm intervals. It’s okay to sow more than you need but bear in mind that once the little seedlings have grown into plants, you will have to remove many of them (known as thinning).
Why we do it?
The reason we sow extra seeds is in case some don’t germinate or get eaten (“one for the slug, one for the snail, one to grow and one to fail”). Also seeds like the company of other seeds – they often don’t thrive if they’re sown in containers that are too large for them.
Once you’ve sown your lettuce seeds, open the Calendula and place a row of seeds along the back of the container at about 2cm intervals. Lightly push these into the soil to a depth of 10mm with your finger and cover over with soil.
When you’ve finished sowing all the seeds, cover them with a very thin layer of damp compost from your container so that it just covers all the seeds.
There are often over 400 seeds in a packet of lettuce seeds. Each tiny seed has the potential to grow into a plant so try not to sprinkle too many seeds onto soil when you sow as you will have wasted them.
Close up seed packets when you’ve finished and keep them in an airtight tin in a cool, dry place ready to be used again.
Keep your container in a sunny but sheltered place outside and add water whenever it shows signs of looking dry. The frequency of watering can differ depending upon weather conditions. Water gently until it runs out of the drainage holes in the bottom then stop. Be careful not to overwater as this is one of the most common reasons that seeds fail to grow!
The seeds should germinate (break out of their seed shell and you’ll notice little seedlings popping out through the soil) after about a week. Once the seedlings have grown to approx.. 5cm high with four leaves or more you will have to decide which ones you’ll be leaving in your container to grow and which ones you’ll have to remove (this can be a very difficult decision for newbie gardeners as you’ll have to select the strongest and discard the rest – be strong!) You will ultimately be aiming to leave final gaps of approx. 20cm between each plant but don’t do it all at once, thin the seedlings a few at a time just in case any get eaten).
Snip the seedlings you no longer want to soil level with scissors if you’re not planning to save them, or gently remove with your fingers and replant. (If you have some spare containers, you can replant your thinning’s into them which will give you extra plants. You can either plant these individually or use them to top up your main container later. Anything can be used from shopping bags to welly boots, just so long as there are drainage holes.)
After six weeks or so you will have to add fertiliser to the soil (avoid watering it on the plants) as it’s likely that your plants will have used up the nutrients in the original compost.
Diluted liquid seaweed fertilisers are ideal for container grown vegetables as they can be watered onto the soil (follow the manufacturer’s instructions). Avoid using strong, concentrated feeds.
Pests to watch out for
Slugs and snails love to eat lettuce (see picture on right) so keep an eye out for any tell-tale nibbles out of leaves. To prevent them getting into your container you could smear Vaseline all around it, making it too slippery for them to climb in.
Aphids (greenfly) also like to munch out on lettuce leaves but they can spread virus diseases. Calendula attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids. This plant also produces a chemical that repels whitefly making it an ideal companion for lettuce.
Things it’s handy to know
After five or six weeks the plants should be ready to eat. Take a few leaves from each plant rather than stripping one bare. Alternatively when the lettuce has reached about 5-10cm high, snip the tops off the leaves with scissors and they should re-sprout. Both the leaves and flowers of calendula are edible and a few calendula flower petals can really brighten up a salad.
There are many varieties of lettuce that just won’t germinate if it’s too warm (over 25oC) so avoid sowing lettuce undercover (e.g. pollytunnel/greenhouse) in the summer or if we experience a rare heat wave!
And for the Kids
How about letting children paint the containers with colourful paints to brighten them up, or letting them plant a few seeds in a smaller container to watch and water too?
With thanks to GIY Ireland. More gardening projects available on www.giyireland.com
Have you grown salad before with your child or any other easy GIY crops? Tell us all about it in the comments below
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