30 Mar 2020

Sowing seeds for a salad garden

The internet and social media are full of tales of people turning to gardening, and food growing in particular, during the lockdown.  Most crops take a while to be ready for picking but one of the fastest and easiest to grow is salad, especially baby leaves, herbs and cut and come again. This post is anecdotal but with, I hope, some practical advice on how I get my salad garden underway, starting with my balcony and raised beds.

flowering broad bean plants
Just beautiful! Autumn sown broad beans flowering in the veg patch this week.

This has been an extraordinary week, taking with one hand and giving with the other. We’re now confined to barracks (as my ex-military brother would say) but that loss of freedom has been tempered with a birthday (mine), a broken washing machine (alas, also mine), free plants, the start of the salad garden, a replacement washing machine and five days of good weather.  And that’s enough excitement for one week, thank you.

In a moment of super nerdy practicality, I’ve gathered up all my seeds and listed them in a spreadsheet on my iPad. I hope you’re impressed.  It makes me feel super organised as I can flip open my iPad rather than rummaging through my over stuffed seed box.

spreadsheet showing list of salad seeds

This has been a revelation as I can now place seeds in alphabetical order, both on ‘paper’ and in the box, and see any gaps at a glance. (So far, only aubergines and sweet corn seem to be missing - I’m better prepared than I thought!)  Once I’ve finished inputting all the ‘sow by’ dates, there will be no excuse for sowing too late. Theoretically.

Both my new Veg Trugs have now been built and filled. (Thank you to friends and my lovely son for help with that - the trugs can be built by one person but it’s easier and more fun with two.)  I used multi-purpose compost for these (the cheapest and nearest option as 420 litres were needed for each trug; that’s 9 x 50 litre bags or, put another way, a LOT.) Once filled, I had to soak the mix several times over to make sure it would hold some moisture for sowing. I've had better compost than this but, as they say, needs must.

Veg trugs in evening sunshine
And just in case all that newly laid compost proved too enticing for the local cat population, it was covered over with a layer of fleece.  This will stay in place to keep my seeds/seedlings warm once sown; very important as even in the mild London microclimate the nights are still chilly.

selection of seed packets for growing salads

So now for some fun! I want to grow a range of salad leaves in the trugs as they have the advantage of presenting a mountainous climb for adventuring molluscs.  I love that the V-shape of the trugs allows for deeper rooted plants in the middle.  I’m thinking carrots, coriander (the deep tap root is edible), tomatoes and basil (a good companion plant) in the centre with endive, lettuce, mustard frills, spinach and lambs lettuce on either side.  Perhaps also with some nasturtiums trailing prettily over the side. (Expect lots of photos as the weather gets warmer.)

Radishes can be sown, not too thickly, between the carrots as they’ll grow more quickly and can be pulled before the carrots mature. I’ve grown Amsterdam Sprint in the past as the early teeny-tiny carrots add a bit of fun to a plate of salad. Unless I’ve munched them on the walk home as they’re so delicious.

Lettuce, rocket, spinach, radish, carrots, spring onions, and lambs lettuce will all be sown outside this week; the less hardy plants - tomatoes, chillies, bell peppers - have been sown indoors into my new rubber module trays.  Filled with compost, watered well, two/three seeds to a cell, topped off with a little more compost, watered gently again, and then forgotten about until they germinate, when they’ll be moved to the windowsill until ready to pot on.

Am I late in doing this?  No.  The sun may have been shining but it's still early in the season with plenty of time to sow seeds and a very real chance of frosty nights to come.

Black rubber seed growing module trays

I’m slightly in love with these trays. I bought them from the UK-based Plastic Free Gardening website after seeing them on social media and liked that they’re made from sustainable rubber. Buying them supports Sri Lankan rubber plantations that would otherwise be turned over to the production of palm oil or beef production. (As we know, this is A Good Thing.) Charles Dowding has given them the thumbs up, (his testimonial is here, opens in new window); plus, they’re nice and squishy so it should be easy to remove the plug plants when they’re ready. And they’ll last far far longer than plastic module trays. In the past I’ve used both polystyrene and plastic trays and would carry on using them if they hadn’t already fallen apart so this feels like good timing to have found a better replacement. (And, no, I haven’t been paid to sing their praises.)

Meanwhile, on my tiny balcony, I’ve been sowing micro-leaves. This is just a fancy name for growing all sorts of leafy veg to pick as baby shoots; at that stage the leaves pack a punch, flavour wise. I have wooden seed trays that I bought years ago but any pot will do. I’ve used scavenged fruit boxes from the greengrocer and polystyrene fish boxes (with holes punched in the sides) before now or used washed plastic trays (the ones with drainage holes) from my recycling as they’re a perfect size for a kitchen windowsill.

Plastic trays don't need to be lined but, as my wooden trays have gaps at the bottom, to stop soil falling through I line my trays with a couple of sheets of newspaper before I add compost (seed or multi-purpose). Then I water  well and then let the compost drain through, gently sprinkle the seeds on top so they’re slightly spaced out (geographically not mentally), top with another light sprinkling of compost, and gently firm the soil. Within the week, shoots will show; in another fortnight or so, I’ll be picking tiny leaves to top my salad, add to couscous or other grains, or in a sandwich or omelette. Or nibbling the pickings as I step out onto the balcony to water my plants in the morning.

Perfect seeds for micro leaves are peas, salad leaves, rocket, mustard, pak choi, radish, basil, coriander, mizuna, kale ... I’m still experimenting but most seeds prove to be tasty. And in true Blue Peter style, here’s one I did earlier (two weeks ago). They're just beginning to sprout true leaves so with another week of mild, sunnyish weather, I'll be able to start picking.

Micro seed leaves in yellow tray of soil
This tray is from Elho and has a protective cover.  Very useful.

Until next time friends, stay well!

Caro x


  1. Now is about the time we normally sow seeds do definitely not too late.

    1. I'm also trying to make a note to remind myself about successional sowing, Sue - easily forgotten after the big rush of sowing everything else. Do you sow in trays or straight into the ground at your allotments?

  2. That sounds like a week and half Caro! I'm most impressed with your spreadsheet and may borrow your idea. It's a struggle to get anything out of my seedbox let alone know exactly what's in there. Now it's been a least ten years but surely I can remember how to format a spreadsheet 😂

    1. I only know the basics of using spreadsheets, Anna, but have to say I'm loving this - and that I can note when I sowed the seeds and then file them back into the seed box in alphabetical order! It just appeals totally to my nerdy tidy nature. (Can I mention that I've also discovered bullet journalling this year, another revelation - no more lost notes or post it stickers. Hah!) xx

  3. Oh, happy birthday! I am impressed with your spreadsheet and love all the seeds. My dishwasher broke, I've not bothered replacing it as I don't want anyone in the house. The veg trugs look great! What a week! xxx

    1. Thanks for the birthday wishes, Dina - I don't mind birthdays but I'd prefer to have them without getting older! The dishwasher in my house is me and I'm often broken if there's something good on telly or ironing to do (haha!), but I totally understand the need to keep folk away at this time. Hope you and yours are keeping well. xx


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