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How to make a living salad wall

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Living salad wall

This growing project is a fantastic way to harvest lots of salad crops from a tiny space such as a balcony or roof terrace, says Alex Mitchell, author of new book Gardening on a Shoestring. The costs are almost non-existent since it’s easy to get hold of plastic fruit crates for nothing – just ask at a greengrocer’s, they often have them stacked up round the back. All you will pay for is the compost, crate-lining material and the lettuce plants which, if you buy a ‘living salad’ from a supermarket are usually extremely good value, costing about £1 for up to 50 lettuces that can be separated and grown on as separate plants. The material can be bought cheaply by the metre from any garden centre and is invaluable because it stops the compost falling out while still allowing water to get through. Balcony railings are ideal to hang the crates from, or you can use trellis.

You will need

4 plastic fruit crates

Weed-suppressing membrane

Stapler with staples

Multipurpose, organic, peat-free compost

Perlite or sphagnum moss

Scissors

1 supermarket ‘living salad’

Cable ties

16 sticks narrow enough to poke through the holes in the crates; 8 cut slightly longer than the width of the crate, 8 slightly longer than the height.

When to do it

Spring to autumn

How to do it

First cut four pieces of weed-suppressing membrane that are big enough to line the sides and bottom of each crate and leave a flap at the bottom that is the length of the crate which can be folded up and over to form the front of the finished salad wall. Staple the membrane around the edges and to the bottom of the crate.

Living salad wallFill your crates right to the top with a 50:50 mixture of compost and perlite or sphagnum moss. Make sure you fill each crate right up into the corners, since any gaps will cause the compost to drop down once you hang it vertically. Fold up the flap of material to form the front, stapling this down to the edges too. Now make a grid at the front of the crate by poking sticks through the holes in the front of the crate; two sticks running across and two from top to bottom. This grid stops the compost from falling out.

You are now ready to plant. With your scissors, cut 14 equally spaced crosses in the membrane. Take your living salad and gently pull apart the root ball to make several sections. Then carefully, holding the largest leaves (not the stem or base of the plants), tease the plants apart so you have 14 single lettuce seedlings. Holding one seedling by its largest leaf, make a hole in the compost through one of the cuts in the membrane with your other hand and drop the root ball into it, then cover the roots over with the compost and firm down. Repeat until all the holes are filled and do the same for the remaining crates. One bought living salad should fill all the crates with plenty left over as spares.

Place the planted-up crates flat on the ground out of direct sun and water well with a watering can with a rose attachment. Be sure to keep the compost moist over the next few days, since the plants will be very susceptible to drying out. Leave the crates horizontally on the ground for three or four days so the plants can settle in. If any seedlings die, simply replace them with spares.

After this time, the crates can be hung up. Using cable ties, attach them to horizontal railings, threading the ties through holes in the back of the crates. Water the salad from above; the water will trickle slowly down through the crates, irrigating all the plants along the way. Harvest as and when you want salad leaves and once a plant is finished, simply replace with another. The compost will have enough feed in it to last a couple of months, after this you can keep the plants fed by adding a little liquid food to the water.

This project is taken from Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell, published by Kyle Books

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