The salad is one of the most cultivated vegetables in the garden, thanks to the simplicity with which we can obtain tender leaves, which we will always gather fresh from day to day. We distinguish two types of salad, the cutting one and the head one. After preparing the plot of land in which to cultivate the salad, working it thoroughly and enriching it with manure, let's moisten the surface layer, watering it abundantly. So let's proceed to sowing. The cutting salad is sown by spreading, then the seeds are spread all over the plot, taking care not to pile them up and spread them evenly. We can sow only one type of salad, or mix different leaves, adding aromatic plants such as tarragon or rocket to the common lettuce; in this way we will create tasty salads. After spreading the seeds, lightly press them with the help of the spade, to make sure that the seeds adhere to the ground; therefore we keep the soil moist until complete germination; when the leaves are at least 4-7 cm high we can consume them by cutting them at the base. For a continuous and always fresh harvest we can sow small plots to climb, at a distance of about 12-15 days between one sowing and another. The salads from the head are sown in rows, about 25-35 cm from each other; also these seeds must be kept humid until germination; once the seedlings have sprouted it is good to thin them, in order to keep only the most robust. We will collect the salad when it has produced swollen tufts. Also available on the market are young plants of lettuce salad; these plants are immediately placed at home, distancing them by about 25-35 cm, and are harvested only when the head is well developed. Also in the case of head-lettuce salads we can practice seeding or transplanting to climb, so that the various heads are ready for harvesting over a wider period of time.
The cultivation of salads is among those that give more satisfaction within a home garden.
Both in summer and in winter they are able to give a touch of freshness to our table. After all, they require little space and not excessive care. The important thing is to avoid, especially if we are few in the family, to sow or plant excessive quantities because in this way we risk that many go to seed with consequent waste of product and work.
The ideal would be to learn to sow them and devote themselves to this practice once a week, planting them a few at a time and replacing them, once ready, with new plants.
To avoid them going to seed quickly it is also important to accurately choose the type of salad, adapting to the time of year and temperatures.
Types of salads, specific characteristics and cultivation
The most widely cultivated lettuces can be ascribed mainly to five different types based on their size, shape and development. From the point of view of the cultivation technique, instead, they are rather similar. The types are:
- Hooded variety of easy cultivation that forms a round and soft heart with an intermediate flavor
- Roman of which the erect varieties are part whose leaves have an elongated shape. They are tastier and the heart is sweeter ...
- curly they tolerate dry and heat very well and are therefore ideal for summer. In this period in fact they are those that go to seed more slowly. Among these, the iceberg needs more space and water to grow. However, there are cultivars called "mini-icebergs" that are more suitable for family gardens.
- Short leaves they have a very sweet and crunchy little heart. They are very fast in growth and therefore ideal for personal consumption.
- from cutting are available in many variables. The advantage of this type of salad is that, more than the others, it tends to push back. It is therefore not necessary to sow several times. They have more or less large leaves of various colors, but the taste often leaves something to be desired. A disadvantage is undoubtedly the fact that it is almost impossible to grow them using a plastic mulch. It therefore becomes more laborious to keep the soil clean and sometimes we risk gathering weeds together.
The lettuces are to be sown at regular intervals so as to collect the leaves or the tufts throughout the year. It is important for each period to choose the most suitable variety. For example, as summer approaches, it is good to prefer curly-leaf cultivars.
The lettuce cycle, in fact, is particularly influenced by the hours of light available and the difference in temperature between day and night.
The abundant hours of light and the lower temperature range strongly induce some types to go to seed (for example the lettuce with a hood). Others, like the curly ones, manage to resist more and therefore during the summer their management becomes easier, especially where the harvest must necessarily be scalar, due to the limited demand.
There sowing it can be performed both in full field or in jars or special alveolar trays. The ideal would be to make a habit of sowing once a week so that you always have seedlings ready to replace the ones you just picked.
In the open field, after having carefully worked the soil and enriched it with organic soil improvers, dig small furrows about 1 cm deep. In these the seeds to be covered with a light layer of earth will be inserted. An abundant irrigation will follow, but very vaporized (to avoid that the water moves soil and seeds). Once germination has taken place, the seedlings must be thinned out leaving only the strongest ones.
For small varieties the furrows must be 25 cm apart, 30 for medium ones and 35 for the Roman and the iceberg. On the other hand, the distances must be 15, 20 and 25 cm.
If you decide to sow in jars or alveolar trays you will need to fill them with light but rich soil and place in each of them three seeds creating a triangle. Everything will be covered with a thin layer of vermiculite. It will then have to be kept in a small shutter vaporising abundantly and often. Let us remember that we can also aerate to avoid the development of radical mold and the collar. Once the seedlings are checked we will have to leave only one per jar. At the time of transplanting the seedling with all its earthy bread will be taken and planted in the ground creating a hole with a planter.
Of course the plans can also be purchased from specialist retailers. Unfortunately, however, in the trays there are often very many seedlings (it generally goes from 9 to 12): putting them all at home often involves some that go to seed.
Soil, salad collection and irrigation
The soil for lettuce must be fertile and sunny. Summer crops, however, also like a slight shade.
Irrigations in the absence of rain (or if a drip irrigation system is used, assisted by mulching with plastic film) it will be good to irrigate once every 10 days. The ideal is about 12 liters of water per square meter. We try not to overdo it because excessive water induces flowering.
Usually, depending on the climate and cultivar, the salads are ready for consumption in 3-6 weeks. The ideal is to pick the whole head, leaving about 5 cm of stem so that the plant can possibly push it back. Generally it can be collected from the same head from two to three times. If you prefer, however, you can totally eliminate the plant and replace it with a new one.
Chicories, endives and radicchio
Chicory and endives are particularly cold-resistant salads. Some can withstand temperatures as low as -7 ° C and benefit from it, becoming more crisp and sweet.
Among the scarole we can remember the giant of the gardeners, the full heart, the croissant of Bordeaux. Curly varieties instead are the Pancalieri a costa bianca, the Romanesca, the riccia in winter, the Saint Laurent, the Gloire de l'exposition and the curly golden heart.
The varieties of chicory are many and can be distinguished on the basis of the color of the leaves, at the time of ripening and the method of collection.
Some valuable varieties are: Brussels chicory, blond or green grumolo, Catalognabrindisina and Veneto and to point (which are its central shoots), sugar loaf.
The heads with red leaves are typically Italian and are called radicchi. The best known are those of Treviso, the Variegato of Castelfranco, of Verona, of Chioggia and the Orchid. There is also Spadona, Zuccherina di Trieste and Soncino chicory.
Cultivation of endive
The leaves of this salad can be harvested when they are young to add some bitterness to the salads. The alternative is to wait for it to fully mature and then proceed with bleaching which softens the flavor.
The soil must be rich in humus and very bright exposure. Because the plants grow luxuriantly, it is important to have mild temperatures, but avoiding too hot periods.
It is sown directly into the soil at a depth of about 1 cm. The furrows must be 30 cm apart. The period runs from mid-spring to late summer. The plants will then be thinned out at a distance of 25 cm from each other. Irrigations must be abundant, especially during the summer. They will reach adulthood within three months. At that point they will be tied tightly to prevent the lateral leaves touching the ground from risking rot. After about 4 months from sowing, the bleaching process can begin. It must be applied to a few plants at a time, in a scaled manner because once the effect is obtained, the salad deteriorates easily.
The purpose, that is to totally shield from the light, can be obtained with different means: upside down vases, newspapers, black plastic. In general, for a good result you have to wait 2-3 weeks.
Cultivation of radicchio and chicory
They want fertile and sunny land. They can also be sown at home or in jars, every 15 days. The cutting ones can be even spaced by a centimeter. The others, instead, should be placed 20 cm from each other. The radicchio form a head in about 4 months, but they like the use of mulching sheets that accelerate the time considerably, heating the ground. Chicories need frequent and abundant irrigation since they have very deep roots. Both types, however, fear improver not completely decomposed. We therefore only use particularly aged material.
The harvest can begin when the heart closes and becomes particularly compact.
Cultivate salad: Pests, diseases and problems for salads
Usually these plants are quite simple and have no particular enemies.
To facilitate cultivation and avoid interventions against weeds it is advisable to use mulching sheets. In addition to helping us avoid manual or chemical weeding, they leave the product clean from the soil and accelerate its maturation.
A drawback unfortunately very frequent, especially during spring and autumn, is represented by snails and slugs. Especially during rainy days and at night they feed on the leaves giving a bad appearance to the head and decimating the plants just planted.
You can use natural remedies: traps with beer, surround the plants with ash or sand.
If the attacks are consistent, the only solution is sometimes to use lumachicides, paying the utmost attention to the presence of children and pets. Watch the video