Summer means salads - and lettuce is the ideal start in your garden, says Justin Newcombe.
With summer fast approaching, it's time to look ahead to some fantastic gardening and with that comes some wonderful summer eating.
Summer salads, in my mind at least, are all about greens. But in the real world (where, according to my son, I need to spend more time) summer salads are a lot more than that. Jasper might be right about the plethora of options available to the summer salad connoisseur in the real world, but on my side of the reality fence I'm sticking to greens.
So right after I've attacked my herb garden, the next port of call is the summer salad selection in the vege patch.
Summer salads can accommodate many herbs, with some of the classics being basil and coriander. Basil is a favourite with tomatoes, making it a core ingredient in any salad with them in. Chives and coriander are both excellent in a green salad.
In fact, any number of herbs are important to salads and can be applied as part of the dressings and oils, or chopped or ripped directly into the salad bowl.
But it is always with great anticipation that I open my summer kitchen garden account with summer lettuce. It is important to use varieties that don't bolt - you might go through five varieties before finding one that doesn't. That's fancy garden talk for go to seed before they mature. Bolting can be mitigated by using shade judiciously, such as that cast by tomato vines, cucurbits grown on trellises or beans and peas.
Beans and peas are doubly good because they fix nitrogen into the soil, which helps lettuce grow quickly, giving sweet, crisp leaves.
Picking times in summer are also important. During the heat of the day lettuce is often wilted and a bit drab, however first thing in the morning or out of the heat of the day it should be upright and part from the stem of the plant with a little snap as you pick it.
My other summer salad favourites (and I concede not all are green) include beetroot, carrots, spring onions.
Then there are cucumbers. Cucumbers are really refreshing, especially when they are small, so we tend to grow the smaller "apple" varieties.
Avocados are also an illustrious salad extra, providing a good deal of body to go with the lightness of many of the salad ingredients. The avocado flesh lubricates the salad leaves nicely as you toss your salad before serving.
As summer comes to an end I usually revert to cooking more salad ingredients, so tend to go for a green component like rocket. With its peppery, crispy leaves, it proves a good contrast to the sweet, roasted vegetables that become more available in late summer like aubergine, caramelised onion, roasted garlic.
And much later on, more into autumn really, there are pumpkins. A story for autumn, that one.