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With the snow (finally!) beginning to melt from my veggie garden, I’m gearing up for prime planting season. I love the diversity our garden offers, but it’s hard to beat the simplicity and speed of growing salad greens. Here are a few less common greens that have become staple crops to my family:
Growing salad greens – 3 to try:
Combine excellent cold tolerance with quick growth and you get mizuna, one of my favourite spring salad superstars. Plants form large clumps of fine, feathery foliage held on slender stems, which add a mild, cabbage-like flavour to salads, noodle dishes, stir-fries or wraps.
Mizuna is an excellent cut-and-come-again-crop, which means that you can harvest the entire plant by cutting it about an inch or two above the crown. Give it a dose of fish fertilizer and it will quickly re-grow for additional harvesting. If you only need a bit at a time, keep harvesting the outer leaves and the plant will pump out more foliage for months.
As an alternative to green mizuna, try dark purple mizuna. It has pretty green foliage brushed in purple, and makes an eye-catching element in container gardens or edible landscapes.
Most people know amaranth as a grain, but did you know that you can also eat the leaves? In fact, in my northern climate, I prefer to grow it as a green, enjoying the spinach-like flavour of this South American native. In late spring and early summer, we use the tender, young greens in salads. As summer progresses and the plants grow, the larger, more mature leaves are steamed, sauteed or stir-fried.
Amaranth appreciates a head start indoors and shouldn’t be moved into the garden until summer settles in and all risk of frost has passed. There are several species grown for greens, but I typically plant Amaranthus cruentus or A. tricolor, which are readily available through seed catalogues. Amaranthus tricolor, often called Chinese spinach, callaloo or Joseph’s Coat, is incredibly beautiful with large rosettes of leaves in flamboyant shades of red, green, yellow and orange. (See main photo for an example of the vivid colours of A. tricolor).
Tatsoi is one of the first crops direct sown in our veggie garden. In fact, I’m out there with my seed packets as soon as the snow retreats! It forms pretty rosettes of crunchy, spoon-shaped leaves that, like spinach, can be enjoyed raw or cooked. It is also very quick to grow, with a baby crop ready just weeks after seeding.
Sow seed often to ensure a steady supply, moving to a shadier spot as spring morphs into summer. Tatsoi prefers cooler temperatures, but a summer crop is possible in zones 4 to 6 when some relief from the sun is provided.
To harvest, pick the leaves individually or pull the young plants whole for stir-frying.
Are you growing salad greens this year?