It’s planting time again (finally!) and a salad garden is a fun way to teach kids to care for plants and, hopefully, encourage them to eat more veggies. You don’t have to be a master gardener with an acre of soil. Many salad ingredients can be grown inexpensively in containers, small patches of yard, or right alongside your marigolds and lilies. The vegetables will be ready to harvest at various times—just grab a bowl and step outside with your child to see what’s ready to be picked each morning. Prepare and eat whatever you gathered, and your backyard salad will provide a rotating variety of different surprises!
Plan it out
Most vegetable plants sold here in the Hancock County area should be suitable for our hardiness zone, 6a. When in doubt, ask the employees at your local garden center for recommendations. Bring a sketch of your garden area, flower beds, or containers to the store as a reminder of how much room you have, and how much sun each area receives. When choosing what to plant, read the seed or plant information labels carefully, and choose varieties suitable for your spaces. You’ll need to place plants or containers where they’ll receive their needed amount of sunlight, and with room to grow to their mature sizes. Plants in containers tend to need more frequent watering, but they also can be moved easily if needed—for sun exposure, or to make room for extra chairs at your BBQ.
Be sure to mark your plantings so you’ll remember what you have and avoid stepping on them. Plant markers can be made by painting rocks, labelling craft sticks, or simply using the plastic tags included with potted plants.
Seeds come in packets, of course, but some are also sold affixed to biodegradable tape which can be buried in neat rows. Some seeds are also available in small, biodegradable pods containing a bit of soil and fertilizer—the whole pod is ready to bury. You can dry and save seeds from your harvested veggies from one year to the next, or swap seeds with friends and neighbors.
Dress it up
Once you’ve gathered your bowl of veggies from outdoors, how about some home-made salad dressing? A basic vinaigrette recipe, like the one below, can be made quickly, by shaking the ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and then stored in the fridge for up to a week. Just have the kids give the jar a shake before each use. If they typically enjoy honey-mustard dipping sauce, try adding 1 tablespoon of honey and 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard to the basic recipe. Look online or in your favorite cookbooks for other simple variations to shake-up together.
6 TB oil (Extra-virgin olive oil preferred, or something else light-tasting)
4 TB vinegar (cider, white, or wine. Not balsamic.)
salt/pepper to taste
Basil (Italian or lemon)
Versatile basil can be tossed into a salad as well as added to sandwiches, pasta sauce, and other favorite recipes. Its dark green leaves are lovely when planted in a pot alongside flowers. Frequent harvesting encourages new growth in produce such as lettuce.
Bell Peppers (Orange Sun, California Wonder, Burpee’s Carnival Blend)
Bell pepper plants can be planted, beginning in mid-May, in the ground or in pots in areas with at least 8 hours of sun per day. The sweeter orange, yellow, red, and purple varieties often can be harvested when they’re still green, if you’re too eager to wait for their colors to change. But generally colored varieties have better flavor and sweetness when allowed to fully mature to their vibrant colors. Peppers are easier to grow by plant than by seed. Try planting multiple varieties with different maturity dates to stagger your harvest, or try a seed packet with several sweet varieties.
Carrots (Scarlet Nantes, Danvers, Short-n-Sweet)
Because they like looser, well-turned soil, carrots are good candidates for containers. Once they’re technically ready to be harvested, they’re happy to hang out in the soil and wait until you’re ready to eat them. Plant in mid-April, and again in early September.
Cherry Tomatoes (Small Fry, Yellow Pear)
These sweet cuties, packed with nutrients, are easy for kids to pick, and can be grown, beginning in mid-May, in containers or right in the ground in areas with at least 8 hours of sun each day. It’s easiest to begin with a plant rather than seeds.
Lettuces and Spinach (Martha Stewart’s Lettuce Salad Bowl, Burpee’s Gourmet Blend or Heatwave Blend)
Mixed varieties of leaf lettuce seeds can be found in one packet. If you have more space, try planting rows of different varieties. Plant the tiny lettuce or spinach seeds very shallowly in pots or in loose, well drained garden soil in April. With most leaf varieties, the more often you harvest—by picking the larger, outer leaves and leaving the inner leaves to keep growing—the better your crop will be. Plant more seeds every couple of weeks through September to extend your harvest.
Sugar Snap Peas (Oregon Sugar Pod, Sugar Sprint, Sugar Ann)
Sweet snap peas or sugar peas, with their crisp, edible pods, are a welcome treat on any plate. Look for a string-less variety. They can be planted, beginning in April, near a trellis or lattice at a sunny deck or porch where they can climb upward all summer.