Salad Boxes: Grow Vegetables Year Round for Your Family

Make a wooden planter box and have fresh vegetables for your family all year round.

Credit: Carolyn Herriot

Planter boxes are perfect for growing crops all winter long

The first year we moved into our new home, I asked my husband, Guy, to build me 12 cedar planter boxes for Christmas, 30 cm (1 ft.) wide and 1.8 m (6 ft.) long, on short legs. Eleven years later I decided to use six of these planter boxes for winter food crops. I refilled them with screened compost and planted them in fall, using both direct seeding and transplants to fill them up with food. In November, just ahead of the first harsh freeze, using a flatbed dolly, we wheeled them into the unheated greenhouse.

We have been harvesting nutritious greens of kale, spinach, hardy lettuces, arugula, beets, chard, parsley, cilantro, radicchio, chicory, scallions, pea shoots and mizuna mustard all winter long. We have been adding greens to fresh salads and sandwiches, as well as using them as side vegetables, steamed, and in stirfries, soups and casseroles. We¹ve also been enjoying them in a perk-up vita-mineral boost any time of day:

Goldie’s goddess smoothie

(Makes 1 litre/4 cups)
Add to your blender:

  • 1 bunch greens ­ kale, spinach or chard
  • 3 large carrots, chopped into chunks
  • 5 medium apples, cored and chopped
  • 30-45 mL (2-3 Tbsp.) fresh ginger root (to taste)
  • 1-2 lemons, juiced

Keeping your greens frost free

We suffered a few brutal freezes this winter that knocked out a lot of the vegetables outdoors, but these salad boxes, under one level of protection from a single-paned glass greenhouse, sailed through. If you do not have a greenhouse, cold-hardy winter vegetables are just as happy if grown under a cold frame or a protective plastic cloche, which keeps them frost-free.

When the sun shines and the greenhouse (or cold frame) heats up, check for watering, as the soil can dry out. Otherwise there¹s very little watering needed, and there¹s little to do but harvest. Heck, you can even go away for a month in winter and forget about them completely! The most important thing to consider when container growing is what you use in the planter as a growing medium. It needs to be fertile and well-drained, a medium that does not dry out too fast or set to ³concrete² over time.

fresh salad greens from your planter boxes to your table

Super-duper compost

Screened compost makes the perfect growing medium if it has all the vital nutrients in it, and the best way to ensure the highest quality is to make what I call ‘super-duper compost’. When screened it makes a wonderful, rich, crumbly potting mix (or topdressing) for planters and barrels.

Make super-duper compost with:

  •  Aged manure (cow, sheep, horse, llama, goat or chicken)
  •  Leaves (TIP: store extra in circular wire cages in the fall)
  •  Herbaceous prunings
  •  Weeds (avoid weeds in seed or pernicious weeds)
  •  Spoiled hay
  •  Grass clippings
  •  Nettles (in season)
  •  Comfrey (in season)
  •  Seaweed (in winter)
  •  Wood ash (uncontaminated)
  •  Sawdust and fine woodchip (but not cedar)

When spring rolls around, I remove plants that are no longer productive, and replant with a host of new vegetables. I encourage you to try growing food this way ­ you¹ll be surprised at the diversity of plants that can grow in containers. This method also makes harvesting food very convenient. I often use the cut-and-come- again technique, snipping off leaves to within 5 cm (2 in.) of the soil, and letting them come back up again.