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The character of leaf harvests can swing back and forth throughout the summer as growth is so rapid, some sowings lasting less long than at other times of year, and there is an increasing choice of salad plants to grow. A typical early July salad is as much spring as summer, and a September one can be quite autumnal, depending on what you sowed. The following is an outline of salad essence as it unfolds through summer.
The leaves of early July
Most leaf lettuce sown in late winter or early spring should crop until mid- July or so, at which point a late May sowing will be a good replacement and should crop through July and most of August. If you want hearted lettuce, sow a few seeds every fortnight until mid-July. Endives become more prominent from now on, and leaf endives sown
from early June can offer leaves throughout summer. Leaf chicories are another somewhat bitter option, or Palla Rossa varieties can be sown in June for hearting from late August; their heart leaves are crunchier and less bitter.
Spring sowings of sorrel, dill, coriander and even parsley will tend to start flowering through July so more sowings are needed by early summer. In hot weather, or in an indoor growing space (greenhouse, conservatory etc), the summer’s top and most consistent flavour is basil. When regularly picked and with all flowering shoots removed, most basil will grow steadily until night temperatures drop in September or October. It really does not like cool, damp weather so a typical British summer is not ideal for growing it outdoors, unless you have a really sheltered and sunny spot. For extra red colour, orache is now replaced by Garnet Red amaranth, whose dark, ruby leaves also look attractive in the garden.
The leaves of late July and early August
Through this peak of summer, leaves are tending to gain in flavour as the first rocket and a few mizuna leaves become available. With the leaves that are already growing this is a time of great and increasing salad variety and quantity, as leaves grow fast in warmth and long days.
One leaf to avoid at this time is spinach which tends to flower rather quickly if at all short of moisture. A delicious alternative, in dry summers especially, is purslane (not the winter purslane which should really be called claytonia). It thrives in hot sun and has fleshy, rounded, and succu-lent leaves which add a welcome bite to the salad bowl in hot summers but less so in wet ones when its growth is stunted.
To learn more about growing your own salads, reach for Charles Dowding’s Salad leaves for all seasons