I went outside to vent the cold frame this morning, and discovered that a villainous squirrel found his way into the cold frame yesterday and dug up and discarded all but two of the lettuce seedlings I had planted in a new salad bowl garden, thus setting my salad consumption back by about eight weeks. Must dig out the bird netting a bit earlier than usual, I see.
I’m fortunate to live in an area where it doesn’t get terribly cold during the winter–or at least, it doesn’t stay cold for very long. Four-season gardening is possible here without the aid of a greenhouse (although who would say no to a greenhouse?), although I find it does help to have row covers or a cold frame.
I built my cold frame out of cast-off parts from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and in a future post I’ll show you how I did it. But for now, I’ll show you what’s going into my cold frame these days: salad bowl gardens.
A salad bowl garden, as one might suspect, is simply a large container potted up with a variety of edibles, most especially greens, that one might find in a salad. The one I’ve just planted up is comprised of ‘Red Sails’ lettuce and directly-seeded arugula.
How to Create a Salad Bowl Garden
Any garden container or other food-safe container can be used for planting; I have seen these gardens cleverly planted in old colanders (no need to punch drainage holes).
- If your container has one large drainage hole, cover the hole with a bit of a broken pot, a bit of gravel, or a folded paper coffee filter. The idea is to keep the soil from washing out of the bottom. If you’re using a colander or something similar, with many small holes, you don’t need to bother covering them. If your container doesn’t have a hole, drill one, but be sure to use a drill bit that matches the material your container is made of.
- Fill the container two-thirds full with a mixture of potting soil and compost.
- Blend in some organic slow-release fertilizer to nourish whatever you are planting. Greens, like lettuce, spinach, kale, or chard, need plenty of nitrogen to fuel leafy growth. Look for a fertilizer with with a relatively high first number, such as 12-0-0 (blood meal), to provide sufficient nitrogen. In my 12-inch clay pot, I mixed in about 1 tablespoon (1 Tbsp.) of blood meal.
- Remove your transplants and arrange them in your container. If you are pulling seedlings out of a flat, like those pictured below, pull the plants gently by their seed leaves (the first set of leaves to appear). Never handle seedlings by their stems, which are fragile and will bruise or break easily.
- Fill the container the rest of the way up with compost, firming gently around the transplants.
- Water thoroughly, until water drains out of the drainage hole.
- Mulch if desired.
- Depending on the amount of exposure to cold your seedlings/transplants have had, you may need to harden them off. Set the bowl outside in a sheltered spot for an hour, then bring it back inside. Each day, increase the amount of time the container spends outdoors. After about 10 days, you can put the salad bowl container in your cold frame or under horticultural fabric.