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Country Gardens: Grow your own salad

Flowers and ornamental plants may be a feast for the eyes; a salad that is grown in your yard is a feast for the body.

One of the best parts of growing your own salad garden is versatility. You can keep things simple, like lettuce, cukes and tomatoes, or go all out with a variety of different greens, peppers, chives and an array of herbs to sprinkle on top of the lettuce. You can grow what you like and ignore those that you don’t. Trying different crops on a small scale is also fun.

The basics you need is some kind of green leafy vegetable. This would include spinach, lettuce, kale, Asian or dandelion greens. The varieties of lettuce for home gardens are endless. It is not only just green any more as you can choose red, speckled red and green, dark green, light green, romaine and Boston types as well.

Next you need color, this is very important to the eye and nutritionally. Try carrots, a variety of colored peppers: red, green, yellow, orange, purple and chocolate colors. Think about some fresh herbs; they will add depth to the salad and are full of health benefits. Try thyme, dill, parsley, basil, chervil, cilantro and rosemary. Don’t forget some red, yellow or white onions. Carrots and radishes are another colorful salad addition.

Finally is your choice of some exotic ingredients. These would include out-of-the-ordinary types of greens and add-ins. Try escarole, chicory, arugula, sorrel for some great flavor. How about some radicchio – a bit more difficult to grow, but the intense burgundy tops off the greens. Watercress is a pepper-flavored green that has a bite to it. Any kind of mustard greens would also add some heat. All of these greens can be grown from seeds or purchased as plants from nurseries that sell a wide variety of herbs. If you plant by seed, they can be ready in five to six weeks. Just cut with a scissors about one third and they will keep coming back.

One interesting green is saltwort. It is available as a seed and is a traditional Japanese culinary herb. The leaves are long, thin and succulent with a crunchy texture. It needs to be harvested very young. Great in salads or even better if you sauté them for a bit and add to other vegetables.

Salad burnet is another useful perennial that has a bit of cucumber taste. It is good for early spring and again in the autumn. In the summer the leaves can get old and bitter, so it is best to cut it way down and keep it watered, and it will produce another generous flush of new growth.

Leafy greens are full of nutrients and also calcium, potassium and fiber. The longer greens are stored from shipping the more nutrients they lose, another reason to grow your own or support your local farmers market.

Make a salad section of your garden as large or small as you want. You can even grow lettuce and the other smaller vegetables in a large tub or container, or plant them in circles and rows. If you want to have veggies that come up all summer long you will need to replant seed every two weeks as different rows will mature at different times.

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