Growing Your Salad Garden

I started a salad garden after successfully growing roses and flowers for years. It is a lot different. If you want to understand the skill of growing food and the challenges our farmers face, try to grow your food.

I grow lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes in raised beds and pots. My first time building a self-watering lettuce container was a success, and I will be doing that again.

Growing vegetables and fruits is educational and relaxing. My grandparents had extensive gardens when I was growing up. I remember my Grandpa growing beans, beets, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and squash. He helped supply vegetables to most of the neighborhood. My Dad was an accountant by day, but after he retired, he was the community’s most successful amateur farmer, growing strawberries, onions, potatoes, bok choy, and sweet peas.

All Crops Bring Pests

All gardens have bugs, whether on acres of farmland or a few raised beds in the yard. Some bugs are beneficial because they eat other pests. However, it’s always hard to see pests destroy your plants once you’ve watched them grow, flower, and produce those first fruits.

The Tomato and the Leaf Miner, beware of pests

A cherry tomato is the center of the salad garden.

My tomato plant came up from seed this year. It is a sweet cherry tomato. I carefully tended to the soil, adding calcium and Epsom salt. The old tomato cage I keep in that pot securely contains all the primary stalks, and those non-productive stems were cut away and composted.

Florida is not hospitable to tomatoes in summer. This Spring is unseasonably cool, and the tomato flourished.

Leaf miners are common tomato and onion pests.
A leaf miner invasion begins with these small flies.
Tomato leaves scarred by leaf miners.
The larvae from flies eat through the leaves leaving tell-tale trails.

Leaf miners infest many broadleaf plants. I see them on my hibiscus plants and fig tree. But the tomato is usually the first plant to show signs of an infestation. Treating leaf miners is easy, but it is best to spray in the early evening for the best effect. I spray plants every week with a few drops of dishwashing liquid and a half teaspoon of Neem Horticultural Oil® per liter of water.

The leaf miners, unlike most garden pests, will not kill the host plant. But they will reduce the plant’s yield. Let’s be honest that the only reason to grow tomatoes is for the fruit.

It’s surprising how vibrant tomatoes taste when you get to pick them when they are perfectly ripe.

These beauties are larger, and with a more robust flavor. They make a terrific tomato jam and are excellent in salads.

A little care to keep leaf miners at bay and a big drink of water every day will keep this plant growing all season.

This single pot with one plant should yield enough tomatoes to feed two people every week.

Homegrown tomatoes from the salad garden just taste more vibrant.

Container Salad Garden Lettuce

This was the first year I tried growing lettuce. I purchased bibb and butter lettuce seeds to plant in a self-watering planter. The experiment was completely about building a self-watering container. I planted lettuce at the wrong time of year, and I didn’t add enough soil to the planter. But I still received a massive Bibb lettuce harvest.

Bibb lettuce is tender and ready to harvest in 60 days.

Lettuce is prone to leaf miners, grubs, and whiteflies, but the self-watering container is tall enough that grubs, cutworms, and soil pests are kept at bay. I treated the lettuce for leaf miners as a preventative once I saw them on the tomatoes.

Summer is not the best season for leafy salad greens in Florida. But they are doing well despite our 90° heat. The growing period is October to February. I will plant more lettuces in the Fall now that I am sure the self-watering project works.

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