Salad Table Setup

I had pretty much given up growing lettuce or other salad greens in my garden because of our local rabbits' insatiable appetite for fresh salad greens. These determined creatures found a way to dig or chew their way past any barrier I set before them.

I tried growing salad greens in pots. I could at least have a few salads that way, putting the pots on a table or shelf, or even using a hanging pot to keep them out of the reach of the rabbits. I really wanted to grow more than just a couple of salads' worth of greens, but I didn't want to fill my patio table with pots. Then I discovered the Salad Table.

Back in 2007, I attended a talk from University of Maryland Extension Specialist Jon Traunfeld, who introduced his plans for the "Salad Table". This do-it-yourself project is basically a 58" x 33" raised bed 3.5" deep with three sections, constructed to be the height of a table. My husband and I constructed a Salad Table that year and it has been a way for us to easily grow and harvest salad greens without any interference from rabbits ever since.

The salad table uses standard soilless mix, the same sort of mix you would use in a container-- the same mix we used in our "Basic Bucket Garden" in a previous post. But I will admit, we reused the same mix from last year, a practice we don't usually recommend to people.

Since we did not have any disease or insect problems in the salad table last year, and the soil still appeared to be in good condition, we chose to use it again. But the time release fertilizer we used last year had long been depleted. To replenish the nutrients in the soilless mix, we added some worm compost, also known as vermicompost to the salad table. Additional good choices for fertilizer would have been composted manure or yard waste, standard or organic granular fertilizer or time-release fertilizer. Honestly, I have not fertilized my salad table beyond at planting time, and have had great results.

This week we planted the three sections of our salad table with spinach, spring mesclun mix, and two varieties of kale. Salad greens and lettuce tend to "bolt" or go to seed as the weather turns summer-like. One advantage of the salad table is you can move it into the shade and delay bolting to some degree.

The specific varieties we planted were:

  • 'Bloomsdale Long Standing' Spinach-- This is an old standby in my salad table, planted in rows. It grows well even after the weather warms up and I harvest individual leaves as needed.
  • Mesclun Mix containing arugula, red russian kale, endive, chervil, raddichio, red romaine, bibb, and salad bowl lettuces-- This was a pre-packeted mix, but I have also just purchased different lettuces and green seeds and mixed them together. These seeds are sprinkled liberally across one section of the salad table, not in rows. Leaves will be harvested with scissors, giving the plants a "haircut" as needed, and allowing the plants to grow again. You can harvest like this 2 to 3 times before needing to replant.
  • 'Red Russian' and 'Dwarf Blue Scotch Curled' Kale-- This is a new addition to my salad table in 2014. Since all the cool people are growing and eating kale, I thought I should try it. I planted it in rows and will harvest individual leaves much like the spinach.
The Salad Table has become extremely popular on University of Maryland Extension's "Grow It, Eat It" webpage, where you can find detailed building plans, lots of additional suggestions on what to grow in the Salad Table, and different tweaks to the original plans.

One tweak that my husband added to our Salad Table was to construct the growing area out of composite lumber made with recycled plastic which should allow the table to last a lot longer than plain untreated wood. Treated lumber is not recommended for use where it will touch soil where vegetables are grown. He also added a greenhouse-like top for the table, to allow for some season extension. We have been able to harvest fresh greens as late as Thanksgiving using the top, and have planted as early as February if the weather is favorable. This translates to stretching the growing
season about 6 weeks earlier and 6 weeks later in our Zone 5b climate.

The first two greenhouse tops my husband constructed(fondly referred to as Version 1.0 and 2.0) were destroyed in storms. Watch for our next installment where we install Version 3.0 of the greenhouse top. Also stay tuned for updated pictures of what we planted in the salad table.