Tricounty News

Making and Using a Salad Box

Maybe you've heard of a salad spinner or even a salad shooter, but you have never heard of a salad box. A salad box is a handy dandy, easy-to-build container for growing salad greens. It is essentially a shallow wooden frame with a mesh bottom to allow for drainage. You fill it with potting soil mixture, plant it with lettuce and radishes and before you know, you are growing your own salads. Why, you ask, do you need a salad box when you can easily plant lettuce in the ground? Well, there are a few reasons. It is like the tomato plant that you are growing in that five-gallon bucket; think "temperature management". Tomatoes like hot weather and lettuce likes cool weather. How can it be that tomatoes and lettuce go so well together in a salad, but like completely different kinds of weather? Reminds me of the differences between men and women, but someone else will need to write that article! Let's just say that lettuce likes cool weather, so now is a perfect time to be planting lettuce. When July rolls around and we are ready to pick our first tomato, the weather will be hot. Lettuce doesn't like heat. It will turn bitter tasting and "bolt", (when a plant bolts it is forming seed heads). When the weather turns hot the salad box can be moved to a cooler spot and it will keep producing! Generally the salad box will grow best with full sun until June 15, with light shade from then until about Sept. 1, then back into the full sun in the cooler autumn weather. Lettuce grows in a three-to four-week cycle, what you plant today, you will be eating in three to four weeks. For a continuous supply of lettuce you will need to keep replanting. If you keep replanting your salad box you will be enjoying lettuce well into October. Another advantage of a salad box is that it can be raised up to keep the rabbits out of it. How do you make a salad box? Pretty easy. It is just a 2 feet by 4 feet frame, with a mesh bottom. Before you start to build, it is best to decide what material you will use for your mesh bottom. The mesh bottom is important for drainage. Hardware cloth or chicken wire will work. I bought a 2-foot wide, 5-foot long roll of hardware cloth for under $4. Hardware cloth is a wire mesh that is pretty sturdy, but the wires are about a half-inch apart. I used a layer of metal window screen over mine to hold the soil mixture. If you don't have any metal window-screen material, you can line the bottom of the salad box with several layers of newspaper or old paper bags. Don't use plastic, it doesn't provide drainage. The box can be any size and shape, but 2 feet wide by 4 feet long seems to be the best size for most folks. Remember, you will need to pick this up and move it so don't make it too big! The frame should be made of regular 2 by 4 lumber. Don't use treated lumber because we aren't really sure if the chemicals used in treated lumber are healthy for us. If you need to buy the boards to make your salad box, I suggest one 2 by 4 eight-feet long and one six feet-long. They should be less than $2 each. You will also need eight nails or screws about 2-1/2 inches long and about 20 roofing nails to attach the mesh to the boards. Now is the time for the best advice, measure twice and cut once! Measure the mesh. Cut the boards to match it, nail them together and attach the mesh. If you need more complete directions, the University of Maryland Extension Service has full instructions on their Web site at www.growit.umd.edu. Or ask a handy friend to slap it together for you. Guys, remember, if the women don't find you handsome, it is good they find you handy! Once you have your salad box built, fill it with potting soil mixture. Regular garden soil will be too heavy, so don't try it. A little fertilizer will help, but don't use too much. It is a good idea to use half the rate recommended on the package and add a little more each time you replant. There are many good lettuce types which will work. Black Seeded Simpson is a common leaf lettuce that will be ready in about three weeks. There are plenty of others, too. Head lettuce is more difficult to grow, but can be done. The regular iceberg lettuce that you buy in the store isn't what you want. It was developed to be packed and shipped across the country, not to be grown in your back yard. Spinach will work but takes longer to grow than lettuce. Radishes will work well, too. Thank heavens winter is over. Get out there and get gardening! Next time: Doing the dirt. Soil preparation for your garden. If you have a gardening question or suggestions for Mr. Potato Head please e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Pretty soon he is going to start making up questions if you don't have them! Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis