With spring on the horizon, now is the perfect time for gardeners in the area to start planning and preparing for another growing season. For those with limited space for a traditional garden, limited mobility, or the desire to get a jump on the short growing season at higher elevations, a salad table can be the perfect solution.
A salad table is a typically constructed of wood; the contraption stands waist-high, and the top of the table is a shallow box frame with a mesh bottom. The mesh allows water to drain freely, while the large surface area of the table allows gardeners to grow a variety of salad greens, herbs, and other shallow-rooted vegetables and plants. The table can rest on traditional legs, or can even be placed atop a set of sawhorses.
Penny Bieber, a Bon Carbo resident and gardener with over thirty years of experience, uses salad tables as an easy, convenient tool in her plant-growing repertoire. “You almost can’t go wrong with salad tables,” she says. “Salad tables are by far the easiest, cheapest way to get loads of veggies with the least amount of work. They are terrific for older gardeners - no stooping, no crawling around on hands and knees, no tilling or back-breaking effort. Everything is at standing height, and an entire table can be planted in less than five minutes.”
“Also, the tables are reasonably portable and can be put in the shade out of our harsh, high-altitude sun, allowing for vegetable production through most of the summer. My soil is very silty and difficult to work, and despite years of adding compost, it is a lot of work to prepare the beds each year. The salad table is super easy to prepare and plant.”
Bieber has several tips for maintaining the proper moisture levels needed to grow greens and vegetables in salad tables: “I prefer to use at least 2 x 6 inch sides, as that depth doesn’t dry out so quickly.The potting soil and compost mix matters, too,” explains Bieber. “Some potting soils dry very quickly, and some hold moisture longer. I use Sunshine potting soil in my pots of flowers and plan on watering every day, but have found the salad tables dry out very quickly with that potting mixture. So I use a different one, Pro-Mix, for my salad tables. You can buy potting soil by the bale and save money over smaller bags. I also keep my tables covered all summer with frost cloth pinned with clothes pins to my concrete wire arched cover. That allows me to protect the plants from cold nights, winds, or even frosts, and also from the harsh, high-altitude sun at 7500 feet.”
Salad tables can be used to grow a wide variety of produce. “I grow mostly greens, which is where you get the most bang for your buck,” says Bieber. “I grow lettuce, spinach, tatsoi and other Asian greens, chard, kale, orach (a delightful red or green and silver-ish pot herb or salad green), bok choy, cilantro, basil, and really any type of greens. If the salad table is deeper than 2x4, you can also grow bush-type (not pole-type) green beans. I have three tables, and stagger my plantings so I always have great food to harvest. The most obvious advice is, ‘Grow what you like,’ but salad tables are a great place to experiment with different veggies, too.”
Given our area’s high elevations, salad tables can be quite successful in extending gardeners’ growing seasons. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I can grow plants earlier and later than I expected, using salad tables,” says Bieber. “I’ve had hardy greens growing or being harvested into October, even after the soil in the beds is frozen. As for when to start - it depends on the spring weather and if you are covering the bed or not. If the weather is warming up, I plant and see what happens. Most greens prefer spring and fall temperatures, and many can withstand frosts. Sometimes the beds tell me themselves by sprouting seeds left over from the previous year. If you plant too early, you are only out a few minutes of your time and a few pennies worth of seeds. Then try again!”
For more information about building and using salad tables, check out the University of Maryland Extension website at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/plants/salad-tables.