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Regular readers of my reviews may know that I have a passion for growing salad leaves. I became interested in this area of gardening some years ago, as a result really of my love for eating the produce! I prefer to eat organic salad leaves, but find them difficult to purchase and rather expensive, and added to that even though they come in bags, they rarely keep well, and once you have tasted home grown salad leaves you really notice the difference in taste and freshness that you never want to go back.
The best thing about growing your own is that a small garden can, with proper planning, be almost self-sufficient in salad leaves all year round. You really just need to understand about the different varieties in relation to their growing needs through the seasons. It is also helpful to have a small unheated greenhouse - the sort you buy for under £20 is more than sufficient, as this will happily germinate all the seeds you need, as well as acting as a frost free holding place for young seedlings to overwinter. This gives them a head start as soon as the spring comes. My favourite book about this subject is called Salads for all Seasons by Charles Dowding, which you can purchase from Amazon- this is a manual which covers everything you need to know to get started and I highly recommend it.
If you have a small garden there are several options to choose from if you want to gain extra growing space. Salad leaves have tiny root systems, so they don't need a lot of digging work, and an ideal way I have found to grow them is to use a grow bag, and this is the subject of this review as I have found a really good one which is environmentally friendly.
The Premium Salad Grow Bag by Kingfisher is available from Amazon for £6.99 with free shipping. Made from jute which is a natural fibre, these roomy bags are ideal for planting out young seedlings. The bag holds 50 litres of compost, and I have found it to be extremely durable, meaning you can re-use it season after season. At the end of its life you also have the reassurance that it is 100% biodegradable - you can even put it on the compost heap.
I think these jute bags also look more attractive on the patio than plastic grow bags, and as the salad leaves flourish in them they look very cottage garden like, and become an attractive feature in the garden rather than just a receptacle for planting.
When you use them for the first time it is a good idea to put a layer of gravel into the bottom to help with drainage. I have sometimes not done this, and it still produces lovely plants, but it does recommend you to do this if you can. You then fill with compost up to about an inch and a half from the top of the sack, and then you are ready to plant.
I have found them to be really suitable for the mixed varieties of salad leaves you can purchase in garden centres either as plants or as seeds. I say this because if you plant these in the borders and weeds infiltrate their space, it is sometimes, with the more unusual varieties, difficult to tell weeds from plants. If I am planting these out I don't even separate the plants much from their pots but plant entire cells out, as this seems to lessen the risk of damaging the seedlings. As these varieties are intended to produce small leaves they do very well when bunched up quite close, and in the jute bags there is very little, if any, weed problems.
I also use them to grow lettuce plants which are all of the cut and come again varieties. If you don't want to grow from seed you can buy trays of these from garden centres- B&Q in particular have a great selection ( one of the best I have seen) of curly leaf cut and come again varieties.
The main item of work associated with these bags is the watering. You must make sure the lettuces do not dry out - I find morning watering to be the best as it ensures the plants are adequately hydrated before the morning sun dries them out too much. In hot summers you may have to check them at night too.
If you want to pick the leaves in one sitting and store them in the fridge for the week you can do this by picking early in the morning. I have a salad storage box which I purchased from Lakeland, and this works very well keeping them fresh for 7 days. Produce grown in these jute bags is so fresh that it has excellent keeping qualities. Of course there is nothing better than to pick the leaves as and when you want them.
The bags are remarkably frost resistant, affording the opportunity to grow winter salad leaves really successfully. I find if I see the temperature is forecast to be lower than 1 degree I will simply cover with a thin layer of garden fleece. The instructions do not recommend winter use, but where I live in the south it has been fine- you may have to rethink this if you live in the north, as I know that my daughter in Edinburgh can't grow many salad leaves in the winter months.
When you pick the leaves ensure that you take from the outside. Green leaved varieties of lettuce are faster growing, as are the salad leaves mixtures, but red lettuce will only grow a leaf in 4 days, so these need more patience, but are well worth it as they really make the salad bowl look really nice. You can also plant some violas in the bag as these are edible and make the salad look lovely and offer something rather unique.
If you have children this is such a lovely introduction to them to the world of vegetable growing, and the great thing is they can get involved with watering and planting, and of course eating the produce. There are some salad mixes now that are ready to eat in three weeks which is an added bonus.
I have many varieties ready now in my garden and these bags are an integral part of my salad leaf production. What I value in particular about these bags is that as they have quite steep sides the slugs can't ascend the incline, and so the plants are relatively free of pest damage.
I have had years of use from my £6.99 bags and they show no sign of giving up on me yet! I am finding more and more varieties to try, and now the weather is warming up they are really starting to flourish. Of course these bags can also be used for tomatoes, and chilli peppers and many other vegetables so you can try those if you want to branch out!
Just one small point- position the bag in its spot before you fill as it becomes really heavy after that, and you could sustain a back injury. The bag has handles which are rather inviting to use, but are not really practical when the bag is in use.
This review will also be published on Ciao under my user name Violet1278.