Over the years, I have always struggled to follow the classic gardening advice for successional sowing of salads.  The idea is to plant a few lettuce seeds every couple of weeks to ensure that as one lot come to the end of their life another come into picking.  For me, this kind of schedule has always been an impossible goal.  My style of gardening is far more ‘do it when you have a few minutes’ than tightly planned schedules.  My ‘To Do’ list was always far too long for regular seed sowing to figure even near the bottom.  Lettuce’s lack of flavour means it never really enthused me to make the effort either. 

Last autumn I started working with a nutritional therapist to address some of the physical causes of my fibromyalgia.  She recommended that I eat lots of salads, containing as many different foods as I could manage.  Combined with a shift of thinking, towards prioritising my own health over other people’s constant needs, I found that I could keep a constant supply of green stuff going, without relying on a fortnightly lettuce sowing regimen.  Lettuces have featured. in a minor role, and my new motivation has helped me to keep a better supply of more interesting varieties, but my mainstays have been much easier to grow and far tastier leaves.

I began by transplanting watercress from a supermarket living salad tub into a planter with a cover, where it exploded into a mound of glossy dark leaves that kept coming well into January.  In October I found a forgotten patch of coriander (cilantro), sown in August, which had finally germinated with the arrival of cool, wet weather.  I covered it with a cold frame and it thanked me for its frost proof shelter with months of tasty leaves.  At work, we used to show people how to grow pea shoot salads in a paper cup on the windowsill; these three staples of watercress, cilantro and pea shoots kept me in daily salads until March, when my favourite sorrel made its appearance.  

For me, sorrel is a true super-food, with the triple powers of an intense lemony flavour, incredible productivity and an ability to flourish with no input from me at all.  I have a patch of buckler-leaved sorrel, which I sowed from a packet of seed that cost me pennies, ten years ago.  Since then, my metre square patch has reliably produced enough leaf for daily salads between March and October every year without fail.  I’ve added to this a heritage variety called Schavel and a red veined sorrel, which also come back reliably every year with absolutely no attention.

It is now autumn 2019.  I am still eating my daily salad bowl and the need to keep the leaves coming is even higher on my agenda, with almost daily news stories of impending post-Brexit fresh food shortages.  During the great courgette linguini famine of 2017, we saw the impact of storms in Spain on our supermarkets’ ability to keep their shelves stocked with courgettes.  Headlines mocked this as a middle class panic, missing the real story of just how much of our fresh fruit and veg is imported, transported over hundreds of miles from hydroponic salad factories to our plates.  Our tomatoes are picked unripe for ease of transport and so never develop any flavour and our salads are packed in packets of special gases to slow their decomposition.  By the time our salads reach us, much of their goodness has gone.  How much better to give over a small patch of ground to a perennial crop like sorrel, to grow your own cheap salads on a windowsill or in a pot and to add the extra seasoning of satisfaction to a cheap, tasty and healthy salad you have grown yourself!

What types of leaves do you like to eat?  Have you tried adding herbs to lift a simple salad?  Have ago at growing the ones you like.