It has now provided me with baby-leaf salads of one sort or another since about April. That’s over six months since my last bag of supermarket salads.
And do you need acres of space for this miraculous ability to feed yourself without recourse to shops and ridiculously high prices for what is, after all, just a bag of leaves?
You do not. All you need is three large pots – these are around 35cm diameter - a load of potting compost and a packet or two of mixed salad leaves. And an area about the size of a table top (and not a very big one at that).
The key is successional sowing – one of the best tricks in the veg grower’s repertoire, as it means you get just the right quantity of produce at just the right time. More of a just-in time economy than boom and bust, if you like.
So you start with pot number one. Fill with compost, sow into the top, lightly cover the seed and leave to get on with it.
Three weeks later, and seedlings should just about be popping their heads above ground. That’s when you get on to pot no. 2. Same routine: fill with compost, sow, cover, leave well alone.
Three weeks later, and pot no. 1 is around 10cm high and ready for its first cut. You’ll get two generous bowls full of salad from each cut: far too much to eat in one go, even for a salad-mad family like mine, so I harvested mine in two goes, one half one week and the other half the next.
As you’re harvesting, get pot no. 3 under way: your system is now up and running and all you have to do is keep it ticking along to supply yourself indefinitely with as much salad as you can eat.
Each bowl will provide about three to four cuts before becoming noticeably exhausted. I find bowl 1 overlaps a little with bowl 2, so for a while you get two pumping out the leaves at the same time – that’s a lot of salad.
When the first lot of salad leaves aren’t growing back as lustily and your harvest starts dropping away, they’ve had their day and it’s time to refresh. So when it’s time to sow the next batch (that’ll be around three weeks after you’ve sown bowl no. 3), just hoick out the spent plants in bowl no. 1, top up with fresh compost and re-sow.
It’s as simple as that. Each bowl is refreshed every three weeks: you’ve got one to harvest, one growing on and one just sown at any given time of the year.
Swap to winter mixes in around September, so they’ll deal with the cold a little more comfortably. It’s the easiest thing in the world to shift all three containers inside a greenhouse for winter: with the extra protection under glass they’ll just keep growing through till spring, when you can switch back to summer varieties and do it all over again.
Now my system is up and running I will consider it a personal failure if I ever have to buy a bag of supermarket salad again. And all I needed was a tabletop. Who says you can’t be self-sufficient in small spaces?