Read any recipe for a gourmet salad and it’s sure to include something crunchy for contrast to the softness of the usual vegie staples such as tomatoes and leafy greens. Usually it’s a sprinkling of toasted seeds or nuts that’s called for, but don’t stop there. There are lots of plants to grow in your garden to give your garden salad the edge and turn you into a masterchef.
I recently enjoyed a delicious salad made by gardening friend Sharon who served up a bowl filled with small cauliflower florets and finely sliced, freshly harvested asparagus all topped with lightly toasted walnuts and drizzled with raspberry vinegar.
Apples and nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts are other crunchy options that may be already planted in your garden or orchard, or available to the eagle-eyed forager.
Edible flower buds can also add that gourmet crunch. Colourful buds from nasturtiums also add a kapow of colour.
If you don’t have a garden, sprouts such as pea or bean sprouts grown in a jar or a ‘sprouter’ on the kitchen sink are a quick way to add your own personal touch to the salad bowl.
Growing crunchy vegies
Carrots, radish and celery are crunchy options to harvest from the vegie garden – plant some now for the salad season ahead. For quick results sow seeds of baby carrot varieties. Grow these little fellas in the ground or in containers.
Start to harvest in six to eight to 10 weeks when the root are plump, well coloured and finger-sized.
Fresh radish is crunchy and a great beginner vegetable as it grows quickly and easily from seed. Grow radish in a row in the garden or plant the seeds into a pot or trough.
There’s not much that goes wrong with radishes. Hungry cabbage white butterfly caterpillars may attack radish leaves, but little else is likely to impede their rapid growth. To control caterpillars simply squash any that are found feeding on the leaves, or apply an organically friendly caterpillar spray.
If plants are pushed along with good watering and fertiliser, they’ll be ready to harvest in just six weeks.
Celery too can be sown into the garden or grown in a container (with just one plant to a 25cm or larger pot). Select a variety that’s happy to have its stalks harvested as they are needed, such as the well-named ‘Green Crunch’. Celery is a longer-term investment in the garden as it can be several months from sowing the seed to picking that first crunchy stem.
The key to success with all these vegetables is to keep them in rapid growth. That means plenty of regular water (vital for any crops grown in raised garden beds or other containers) and giving the plants room to grow. Thin out seedlings to the recommended spacings (about 20-30cm for celery, but just 5-10cm spacing is okay for radish and baby carrots).
Also keep these all these crops growing rapidly by liquid feeding every seven to 10 days.
Pick salad items when they are young. Even cucumbers harvested when they’re small add to the fresh crunchy taste of a garden salad. Wash all garden vegetables well to remove unwanted crunchy bits such as snails, bugs and soil.