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Easy Salad Boxes: Growing Lettuce

| 2/26/2012 10:36:56 PM

Heidi CardenasBased in Lake County, Illinois, Heidi Cardenas has been freelancing since 2000. She studied business administration at the College of Lake County and has a background in human resources administration. She has written for "Chicago Parent Magazine" and guest blogs for The Herb Companion, Natural Living and TribLocal. She enjoys writing on a wide range of topics, but especially gardening, natural living, and home and family eco topics, and she helps you get your green on at  

It’s easy to prepare salad boxes to grow your own spring lettuce and other greens. Use plastic milk crates or wooden produce crates lined with 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth, filled with rich, light potting soil mixed with aged compost. Milk and produce crates are easy to pick up and move. They can be placed on top of two-by-fours atop sawhorses to raise them to waist height for easier access. If temperatures are below 30 degrees, use 1/2-inch flexible PVC pipe arches covered with plastic sheeting to warm up the soil and protect seedlings. If you’d rather not use plastic, you can use reclaimed glass windows to cover boxes in cold weather.   

The great thing about planting in boxes, cold frames, hotbeds or greenhouses is that you can control the plants’ environment more than in the open garden. Fresh salad greens you grow yourself give you more control over what you eat than buying salad ingredients at the grocery store. When you plant lettuce outside in early spring, soil temperature should be at least 45 degrees. (You can easily check this with a soil thermometer.) When nighttime soil temperatures are consistently above 45 degrees, you can plant seeds of lettuce and greens outside. Water the soil lightly every three days until seeds sprout. Make sure seedlings are in a full-sun location. Some lettuces are ready to harvest in as few as 25 days. Depending on the variety, greens planted in early March can be snipped for salads by May.  

There’s a very wide variety of salad lettuces and greens to grow in early spring. One of my favorites is mesclun mix, with greens such as chervil, spring lettuces, spinach, rocket, dandelion, mustard greens and many others. This lettuce seed mix produces tasty baby salad greens every week for salads and sandwich dressings. Mini Green Improved is a small-head lettuce that grows into tennis ball-size heads and is perfect for growing in salad boxes. Spinach and watercress are some of the earliest and tastiest leafy green crops for spring growing. There are so many early spring salad greens, you’ll have a hard time choosing which ones to grow.  

As long as you’re planting lettuces and greens, why not start tomatoes and peppers now too? These can’t be started outside unless you have heated cold frames or hotbeds or are lucky enough to have a greenhouse. But warm-season vegetable seeds planted inside now will be big enough by early June to get a really good head start on your vegetable garden and get an earlier harvest than the rest of the neighborhood. 

Wooden Crates photo courtesy of Pascal Willuhn at Wikimedia Commons 
Photo By Pascal Willuhn/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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