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); www.charlesdowding.co.uk

Salad days: Edible leaves to grow

Little Gem lettuce

"Sweet, and easy to grow," says Dowding. £1.49, Thompson & Morgan, www.seeds.thompson-morgan.com

Broadleaf sorrel Acetosa

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

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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015