Salad shortage in the UK? Try growing your own for fun and flavour


Amid a shortage of salad crops, supermarkets all over the UK have taken to rationing their supplies of fresh produce and the unluckiest of us vegetable lovers have found ourselves faced with empty supermarket shelves. Adverse weather, high energy prices and Brexit paperwork have all been been blamed for the shortages, which could last for weeks.

But this moment of scarcity is also the time that seasoned food growers will be sowing their first seeds of the growing year so, although they won’t be ready to eat immediately, why not use this as an excuse to try your hand at growing some leafy crops of your own?

Salad leaves

Salad leaves are among the most straightforward edible plants you can grow and often the entry point for budding food growers. Plants including lettuce, rocket, mustard greens and chard can be grown in a relatively small (ideally quite sunny) space whether they’re in the ground or in a container.

Start your seeds in a modular seed tray on a bright windowsill and, when your seedlings appear, regularly rotate their tray to prevent the shoots from stretching towards the light and becoming weak. I prefer to grow lettuce singly as it makes for an easier harvest down the line. But most other leafy crops grow well with company, so I sow between three and six seeds per module.

Four to eight weeks later, once your seedlings have become robust young plants, they can graduate into a container filled with compost. When your plants are established, you can begin picking, starting with the outer leaves. By leaving the centre intact, new growth can continuously emerge, giving you more to harvest.

Leafy herbs

With homegrown leafy herbs, a little goes a long way and adding a few flavoursome leaves can make an ordinary salad into something special. Parsley, dill, chervil and coriander can be grown in much the same way as the salad leaves and will also thrive when multi-sown. Basil can be sown now too, but their seeds need warmth to germinate, so either place their seed tray in a propagator, an airing cupboard or over a warm (but not too hot) radiator until they sprout, then position them where they can get the most sunlight. I like to grow purple and Thai basil alongside the more traditional Genovese variety.

If you don’t have the right conditions for growing herbs from seed and are able to get hold of potted ones from a supermarket, you can give them a longer life by separating out the overcrowded plants into containers with fresh compost to give them the room and nutrients they need to keep growing.


Another possibility that is ideal for those looking for a speedier result – and a punchy flavour – is to grow leafy crops as microgreens. Using a seed tray or recycled punnet filled with compost, seeds for microgreens are sown evenly but quite densely as they will be harvested while very young – after their first or second set of true leaves unfurl in a week or two – so crowding isn’t an issue. Any edible plant that can be eaten from top to tail can be grown as a microgreen so, as well as all the plants mentioned above, try radishes, pea shoots and fennel.

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