How to grow the best salads at the lowest cost


Good quality, fresh salad is expensive.

The good news is that you can grow even higher quality, better flavoured salad at home in containers – all for a tiny fraction of the price (if you use recycled materials, almost free!). And by growing it at home, you can pick it fresh whenever you want it.

Salad is amongst the easiest crops to grow in containers and one of the most productive. Because it only needs a few hours sun a day, its a good choice for the more shady balcony or window sill. And by sowing it regularly, you can enjoy a constant supply of leaves throughout the year.

What’s more, many of the exotic salad varieties and micro leaves, are not difficult to grow either. Some – like sorrel and the mustards – are almost impossible to buy and can normally only be found in the top restaurants.

Micro leaf mustards growing in a recycled container and green waste compost

Micro leaf mustards growing in a recycled container and green waste compost

The Vertical Veg Club this month is looking at ways to grow food in containers for free or at low cost. In this short excerpt video, author, trainer and cook, Tom Moggach, shares how he grows delicious mustards on a shoestring. For more great urban growing advice – and some top notch recipes – check out Tom’s book, the Urban Kitchen Gardener.



More tips for growing salads at low cost


Almost any container of 3 – 10 inches (7 – 25 cm) deep is good for growing salads. Shallower containers, like the ones Tom uses in the video, are perfect for small salad leaves. If you want larger leaves, use a container with more depth. There are many different types of trays you can find for free that are perfect including: mushroom trays, fruit trays, and polystyrene fish trays. Because these trays are not always the most attractive, you might want to use your creativity to make them more beautiful. One simple idea is to hide the trays behind a wooden board. 

Pea shoots growing in cherry trays, found discarded at a fruit and veg market.

Pea shoots growing in cherry trays, found discarded at a fruit and veg market.


If you have space you can make your own compost and mix it with leaf mould to make a free compost. Alternatively, in many cities you can now get green waste compost for free or at low cost. A third option is to try and find a community growing project that buys compost in bulk – they’ll often be able to sell it to you at far lower cost than in the shops. NB you do not need new compost to grow salads. As long as you add fertiliser, you can successfully re-use old compost.


The best place to source low cost seeds is at local seed swaps. Large packs of mixed salad leaves are often better value and a good way of learning about new leaves. You can grow many micro greens including pea shoots, coriander, dill, fennel, broad bean shoots, mustard, fenugreek and chick pea shoots from the seeds sold for cooking in health food shops and supermarkets (test a few first for germination before sowing a large batch).

Large packs of coriander seed sold for cooking are ideal for growing coriander microgreens in bulk - find them in almost any good Asian food store.

Large packs of coriander seed sold for cooking are ideal for growing coriander microgreens in bulk – find them in almost any good Asian food store.


Worm compost is a good fertiliser for salads – mix in a few handfuls to rejuvenate your old compost each time you sow a new batch of salads. Buying a large tub of chicken manure pellets is more of an investment but a cost effective one in the long run.  One bucket will be enough for hundreds of trays of salad. High in nitrogen, it’s the perfect fertiliser for salads.

Your turn

Do you have a favourite recycled container for growing salads in – or other, salad growing money saving tip? I’d love to hear in the comments.

11 comments… add one

  • Great earthy, down to earth video practical, unsophisticated gardening Mark. For me this is what it is all about. Bit of muck here, bit of muck there, salvage a tray or two, get rid of some seeds, reuse recycled materials. Great stuff! One thing I would do is riddle the compost, remove the larger sticks etc., place them in the tray and cover them with the riddled compost. They act as a sump to hold more moisture!! Cheers George

    • Cheers, George – and love the sump trick, many thanks for sharing that.Mark

  • Great article. I like to use the plastic containers I got salad in from the grocery store. They’re about 5 or 6 inches deep and the best ones are fairly heavy plastic. I also use them in the early spring to start seeds. I just put my paper pots in there and snap on the lid. Gardening and recycling just seem to go hand in hand. I sure do enjoy your news letters!

    • Nice idea for a completely free propagator, Lori! And thanks for your kind comments.

  • I grow herbs and vegs in old galvanised buckets which I hang from the railings outside my back door. I grow tree in old galvanised dustbins too. I have a yucca .an olive .a catalpa with strawberries underneath. an apple tree with thyme plants below . and finally a tree fern – all in quite a small space See the photo on my web site!

    • Thanks for your comment Linda. I love the sound of your hanging galvanised buckets! I couldn’t see the photo on your website – maybe you could share a link with us?

      • If you click on the gallery you will find a photo of my garden and the buckets are on the left hanging from the railings. I must have about 8 as well as other galvanised containers. You can usually find them at boot sales and if they are rusted through the bottom [which is essential] they are cheap In the right hand corner the Yucca is growing in a dustbin.

        • Found it! Really like those, Linda – they look great. Never seen this done so well before, thank you for sharing. For anyone else looking, the photo is no.7 in the gallery!

        • Linda I love your garden you have so much in such a small space – inspiring, thank you. It all looks so peaceful.

  • Very interesting!
    I had not heard of micro leaf mustard before.
    Happy Salad Day and have a great week-end!


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