Why buy expensive, chlorine-laced, bagged salads when you can grow your own cut-and-come-again varieties with very little effort?

It's a long time since I've grown what you might call a 'proper' lettuce, with a juicy heart wrapped round with too many throwaway leaves. I'm a complete convert to cut-and-come-again salad crops, which you can sow in containers all the way through the growing season. I occasionally miss the satisfying crunch of a heart, but when I do, I whizz into our local supermarket and pick up a pack of 'Little Gem' – baby cos lettuces that are all heart and no waste.

You can grow salads in any container, provided it's big enough. A half barrel is ideal, but I also use plastic pots 28-30cm across. One biggish pot is much better than three smallish ones. A big pot doesn't dry out as fast, can contain more nutrients and allows roots more room to cruise about looking for food and drink. Salad crops don't need full sun, which is a great advantage. You can grow them on a balcony, though if the space is overhung by a similar balcony above, the plants will not be as happy as if they've got open sky overhead.

But the great thing about cut-and-come-again is that it's a speedy business. Before the plants discover they are in a less-than-ideal situation and start to sulk, you'll be scissoring off the leaves for a mixed salad. And starting off a new crop.

Successional sowing is supposed to be the key to endlessly full salad bowls, a conveyor-belt of salad vegetables, seamlessly presenting themselves in perfect condition, each crop neatly dovetailing with the next. A little rocket here, a soupçon of mixed saladini there, a two-week timetable of sowings, it sounds so easy, so achievable. But does it work?

If the weather is very hot, seed germination may be delayed. Conversely, the growth of rocket, radish and spinach and other crops above ground will accelerate. If it is cool, lettuces will remain in good condition for a long period, so your second and third sowings may come on tap while you are still content with your first. So it's not quite as neat as it seems, but at least you can spend this month dreaming that this year might be different and getting the seeds you'll need to provide an almost year-round supply of salad leaves. They'll taste far better than the supermarkets' bagged equivalent, washed in a chlorine solution perhaps 10 times stronger than anything allowed in a public swimming pool.

There is at least one principle you can hang on to: the shorter time it takes a crop to come to maturity, the more successional sowings you have to make. Salad rocket, for instance, grows quite fast (wild rocket is slower) and there is a noticeable difference in taste and texture between its young leaves and its old ones, which are unpleasantly strong.

The terminal leaf of a rocket plant is much bigger than the others, and once this has been nipped off for consumption, the crop goes slowly downhill. But if you sow your first lot now, you can expect to be picking five or six weeks later. As with spinach, you get the best crops in spring and autumn, when the plants resprout quite vigorously. In the heat of summer, rocket runs to seed fast. Although you can use its flowers in a salad (they taste just as peppery as the leaves) they are not worth the loss of the green stuff. You can slow down the tendency to bolt by keeping pots well watered. Watering moderates the flavour of older plants, too.

This year I'm growing wild rocket (Thompson & Morgan, £1.99) to add a hot note to the rest of the salad leaves we've got coming on. These are a much milder selection: a mesclun mix of radicchio, endive, orach, mizuna, kale, mustard and corn salad (Chiltern Seeds, £2), and a herby salad leaf mix (Thompson & Morgan, £2.29) which I haven't tried before. If you want turnip tops for the tasty pasta dish, Orecchiette e Cima di Rapa, go to the Franchi website (seedsofitaly.com) where a packet of cima di rapa seed costs £1.69.

Speedy business: Before the plants discover they are in a less-than-ideal situation you'll be scissoring off the leaves for a mixed salad Speedy business: Before the plants discover they are in a less-than-ideal situation you'll be scissoring off the leaves for a mixed salad
In a small space, there is no more productive way of growing fresh salads than using the cut-and-come-again technique. You can make your own seed mix of salad crops: salad rocket, oriental greens such as mizuna, mibuna and the mustardy komatsuna, a spinach such as 'Amazon' or 'Banjo' and loose leaf lettuce such as oakleaf or 'Merveille de Quatre Saisons'. Fill the container with compost (I use our own compost in two-thirds of the pot, topping up with bought stuff). Gently tamp down the compost and water it well. Sow the seed thinly and then scatter or sieve a thin layer of fresh compost over them. Tamp down again and give a little more water. Put a pane of glass (or some clingfilm) over the top and wait for the seeds to germinate.

When they are well through, remove the cover. Germination rates vary, but in a well-balanced mixture there should not be too much time between the emergence of one kind of seed and another. Mustard and cress is very fast. So are pea shoots. Depending on the warmth and the weather, misticanza salad mixes may be ready in as little as three weeks. Turnip tops will take about 40 days to be pickable. With cut-and-come-again crops, you don't pull up the whole plant, as you do with lettuce. You just scissor off as many young leaves as you want, when they are 8-12cm/3-5in tall. Make the cut just above the first seed leaves (that's usually a couple of centimetres above ground).

This technique, which you can use with different kinds of lettuce, young spinach, endive, chicory, purslane, Chinese mustard, mizuna and land cress, gives you the juiciest, most tender leaves. You can cut over the same patch four or five times before the seedlings either run out of steam, or shoot up to seed. Much depends on the weather and whether you remember to water.

Rocket, leaf lettuces and corn salad or mache can be sown any time between now and September. Mache grows flat like a rosette of lawn daisy leaves, so is best grown separately and cut as a whole rosette. Most chicories and endives are best sown from June onwards. You sow it just like lettuce. In maturity, they make flat-faced mops of growth, tight-hearted, curled, crisp, stronger tasting than lettuce. But if you sowed the Italian variety 'Grumolo Verde' (Suffolk Herbs, £1.15) now, you'd use the summer leaves young and small for salads. If you left a few rosettes to develop and overwinter, they would provide an early crop for cutting next spring.

Thompson & Morgan: Poplar Lane, Ipswich, Suffolk IP8 3BU, 0844 573 1818, thompson-morgan.com; Chiltern Seeds: Crowmarsh Battle Barns, 114 Preston Crowmarsh, Wallingford OX10 6SL, 01491 824675, chilternseeds.co.uk; Suffolk Herbs: Monks Farm, Coggeshall Rd, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG, 01376 572456, suffolkherbs.com

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
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

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits