Salad greens enjoy the same growing conditions as lettuce: humus-rich, evenly moist but well-drained soil. Greens typically grow best in cool weather; hot weather makes them bolt to seed or, with plants like mustard greens, develop a more fiery flavor than plants grown in cooler spring or fall weather. Broadcast the seeds of salad greens and rake lightly to cover them, or sow seeds ¼ inch apart and as thinly as possible in rows 1½ feet apart. Sow in spring once the soil has reached at least 35°F, and again in late summer for a fall crop.
For the most beautiful salad greens you can imagine, cover seeded areas with floating row cover and leave the cover in place throughout the duration of the crop. The greens will retain their color and tenderness better under the protection of the cover. Check underneath occasionally to remove weeds (which will also enjoy the sheltered environment) and to hand pick any slugs that might have found the crop.
When the seedlings have four leaves, thin plants to 6 inches apart. Make sure the crop gets at least 1 inch of water a week from rain or irrigation. To help prevent disease, try to water on sunny mornings, so the leaves can dry by evening. If you aren’t using row cover, apply a thick layer of mulch to conserve moisture, suffocate weeds around the easily damaged roots, and keep leaves free of dirt. To promote quick growth, side-dress with compost tea or fish emulsion once or twice during the growing season.
There’s no reason to limit your salad-growing exploits to the main crops. Add additional excitement to your salads with fresh leaves of the plants in this list. All add distinctive, delicious bites of flavor that will give your salads depth and take them from good to great. Nasturtium and chive flowers are also edible and will give your salads added beauty.
For more information about growing an organic garden, buy Rodale's Ultimate Encylcopedia of Organic Gardening.