Spring Salad Greens

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available and can be planted right away.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Thin raspberry canes to 4-6 inches apart. Cut back remaining canes to 3 feet tall.
    • Clean out bird houses. Remove old nesting material and scrub the inside with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Spring Salad Greens

The crisp, chilly days of early spring are the right time to start planting early salad greens. These colorful leafy greens love cool, sunny weather and you will be picking them for the table in just a few short weeks.

As well as growing many types of lettuce, add variety to your salad with other greens such as rocket, mizuna, baby spinach and the classic mix of salad greens called ‘mesclun’. Mesclun mix typically includes endive, corn salad, rocket, chicory and various leaf lettuces in different colors – all in one seed packet.

If you’re not familiar with some of these, here are a few descriptions. Curly endive has curled leaves tinged with yellow and green. They are slightly bitter in taste, have a crunchy stem, and add a lot of texture to salads.

Arugula, possibly the best known salad green, forms the basis of many salads. Originating from the Mediterranean, this green tastes more peppery than bitter and is especially associated with Italian dishes like pesto.

Endive has a unique oval shape, soft satiny texture, and slight bitterness that makes it a great addition to any salad.

Radicchio grows as a small, deep-red-purple head, like cabbage. Its bright leaves are colorful in salads and when cooked, the red-purple hue turns brown and what was once bitter becomes sweet.

Escarole is a mildly bitter leafy green that is large and crisp. It is often used in soups and paired with beans, and is popular in Italian cuisine.

Baby beet greens can be grown in the early spring. When the leaves of the beet top are immature, they are tender and slightly spicy. The purplish-red veins are visually striking and can dress up any salad.

Asian salad greens are easy to grow in cool weather. Mizuna is a Japanese mustard green that has a relatively strong pungent flavor when compared to other salad greens. The small jagged edges that make mizuna look like miniature oak leaves add a lot of texture.

Tatsoi has small, rounded leaves with a mild, mustard-like flavor. Their texture is similar to that of baby spinach.

Depending on the exposure and temperatures of your garden site, it may be better to start seedlings indoors or in a cool greenhouse and then plant them out in about a month. When plants are about one inch high, you can begin thinning and eating the greens. Use scissors to cut or snap off the shoots. This will prevent the roots of the remaining plants from being disturbed and give the plants room to thrive.

Greens love cool weather, so take advantage of the sunny spring weather, and start something growing in your garden.

Spring in the Garden

Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Prune Hydrangeas now by removing old flower heads down to the first new leaves. Don’t prune stems which have no old flowers, and they will bloom first this summer.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas and larkspur for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Lily of the valley is a sweet, shade-loving perennial that can be planted now from “pips” available at the nursery.

Spring’s Leafy Greens

This mild weather is a perfect time to plant some of nature’s finest: the leafy edible greens of spring. With a penchant for growing in cool weather, these nourishing plants provide some of the garden’s earliest produce. The distinct flavors of leafy vegetables such as arugula, radicchio, Mizuna, and others can be an invigorating treat for the palate. Most spring greens are tender enough to use uncooked or very lightly steamed—all the better to showcase their clean, fresh flavors.

Arugula, or Rocket, is an easy-to-grow green known for its spicy, nutty taste. In just 20 days after sowing you can harvest the baby greens; for a full head wait another 10 to 15 days. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Arugula can withstand a light frost and the flavor is mildest when the plant matures in cool weather.

There are several Asian greens that grow quickly in spring and are great for salads and stir fries. ‘Mizuna’ produces low-growing heads of white-stemmed, deeply serrated leaves. Its mildly sweet and spicy leaves add flavor and crunch to mixed salads ‘Tatsoi’ plants form a compact, thick rosette of leaves that are mild in flavor.

Radicchio is a mildly bitter tasting leafy vegetable. It is actually Italian Chicory, and the most popular variety looks like a small head of red lettuce. It is usually mixed into a variety of salads.

Mesclun, literally “mixture”, is the name given to a blend of lettuce, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, beet, and Asian greens. Depending on the blend, the mix may be mild or spicy. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked, and enjoy the first harvest 30 days later, when the greens are only 4 inches tall. Sow successive crops every few weeks to have a continual supply.

Spinach is the classic cool-weather green, germinating in soils as cool as 35 degrees F. Once seedlings are 3 inches tall (20 to 30 days after seeding), thin the plants to space them 6 inches apart; plants mature 20 days later. Spinach comes in crinkled and smooth-leaved varieties.

Sow greens in rows or broadcast the seeds over the top of the raised bed. Cover the small seeds with potting soil or sand so they can germinate more easily. Cover the bed with a floating row cover to keep the soil warm, prevent insects from attacking and keep the bed moist. For all but mesclun greens, thin to the appropriate spacing.

Harvest leaves of your greens as soon as they’re at least 2 inches long. Pick individual leaves to create baby green salads or snip the young plants to the ground. Leave some plants, such as lettuce and spinach, to mature to full size for a larger harvest.