Bowled over: There's nothing sluggish about Charles Dowding's home-grown salads

No guilt-inducing food miles, no nasty chemicals – what's not to love about freshly grown leaves straight from the garden? Well, there is one thing actually...

I need some persuading to grow my own lettuce. First, there's the slugs. And then there's the slugs. And even when you've finished growing the lettuce, and you've picked it, you still have to wash off those slugs.

But, having had no chemicals put on it and travelled no distance, freshly grown salad tastes fresh, delicious and totally healthy. So I am desperate to change my ways: currently a guzzler of supermarket mixed-salad bags, I'd love to produce a nice French mesclun in my own back garden. But how can I do it?

My answer is to make friends with Charles Dowding, who has just published Salad Leaves for All Seasons. Very timely, because my desire for sustainable salad is presently shared by about half the British Isles. But good lettuce practice is no news to Dowding, who has 25 years' experience growing organic vegetables in Wincanton, Somerset. Locals adore Dowding's salad bags, which have up to 15 different leaves in them. "I eat salad every day," he says happily, "but I eat completely different flavours at different times of year."

Dowding's philosophy is simple: pay attention. Pay attention to your soil, even if it's just a pot on a balcony. And start growing at the right time of year. "Sow the right plant in the right season, and many problems, such as flea beetles, will vanish."

Dowding is a big fan of "cut and come again" crops – salad plants from which you can carefully peel off a couple of leaves every few days, so that the main plant keeps on growing. Many kinds of salad plants, from rocket to spinach, grow beautifully like this as long as they have enough space and adequate care.

I'm starting with just a couple of pots, so what does he recommend for April sowing? "Lettuce and spinach, and something herby, such as parsley or sorrel, with that lemony flavour, to brighten up the mix," he reckons. "Or pea shoots." The latter are grown exactly like pea plants, except that you pinch out the main vertical shoot once the plant is about a foot high and add it to the salad bowl for a delicious spring-pea flavour. Keep pinching out the shoots every three weeks or so, using the plant as a salad leaf rather than a pea producer.

Then pay attention to sun and water. "Lettuces in pots might need to be watered every day, if it's a hot summer. But if it's wet, you hardly need to water at all." Think about plastic pots rather than terracotta, he advises, "So that you're not sweating out moisture all the time."

And now back to the slugs. Dowding's top three ruses to keep them at bay? Put your salad area far away from slug-havens such as walls and grass; avoid having tattered old leaves on plants which offer the pests shelter; and patrol your plot at night, killing any you find, there and then. n

'Salad Leaves for All Seasons' (Green Book, £10.95);

Salad days: Edible leaves to grow

Little Gem lettuce

"Sweet, and easy to grow," says Dowding. £1.49, Thompson & Morgan,

Broadleaf sorrel Acetosa

"Keep shady and well-watered." £1.59, Seeds of Italy,

Grenoble Red

Excellent slug-resistance. £1.59, Seeds of Italy, as before

Spinach Tetona

Ideal for picking small baby salad leaves over a long period. £1.69, Thompson & Morgan, as before

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London