If you've never had one, a fresh salad straight from the garden is a delight. Salad greens are easy and quick to grow and take up little space, making them a perfect addition to any garden and an excellent beginning gardening project for children.
Types of Greens
Great salad greens include more than iceberg or head lettuce. In fact, any other type of greens will give you more taste and nutrition and are easier for home gardeners to grow. A mixture of greens including lettuces is often called a mesclun mix. You can buy pre-mixed mesclun greens or mix your own with seeds from things you like.
Other greens include cress, chicory, arugula, purslane, pak choi, orach and sorrel.
Most salad greens like to grow in the cooler times of the year and benefit from early spring or fall planting. They tolerate frost quite well. Full sun is best in spring and fall, but in the heat of summer, an area that is shaded in the middle of the day would be ideal.
Most greens should be sown directly where you want them to grow. Firmly press lettuce seed down on the soil but don't cover it, as it needs light to germinate. Cover the seed of other greens lightly. Keep your greens moist until they germinate and keep them well-watered while growing.
You may want to start the seeds of head lettuce inside and transfer plants outside. You can also use a large container inside to start an early crop of greens if you have a cool spot and a sunny window. You can have fresh salad before everyone else this way.
Greens should be sown in small quantities at three-week intervals so you don't have too much to harvest at a time. They don't take long to grow, so they can be sown early where you will plant warm-weather crops later. They can also be sown between slow-growing crops.
Greens appreciate nitrogen fertilizers. A fertilizer for grass with high nitrogen content but no weed killers will really give them a boost. You can also use a garden fertilizer at planting.
Pick the leaves of all greens when they are small and sweet. As they get older, they get tougher and bitter. Keep the plants from going to seed, as this tends to make the greens taste bitter also. If you see the plant putting out a long, narrow stalk, it is a flower stalk and it should be snapped off.
Head, romaine and butterhead lettuces are usually harvested as whole plants. You can cut or pick leaves off leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips, beets, mustard and escarole and the plants will keep producing more leaves. If you want the roots of turnips and beets to develop, then only harvest a few leaves from each plant.
Flea beetles, tiny black bugs that eat holes in the leaves and end up in your salad, are often a problem in plantings of greens. The good news is that greens don't need pollination to produce a crop, so they can be covered to keep out bugs. Use a lightweight row cover and make sure it is well-anchored at the ground.
Slugs and snails can also be a problem in plantings of greens. You can cover the soil around the plants with a layer of diatomaceous earth or sand, which often helps. Raised beds or containers will also help. Row covers don't keep out slugs and snails very well.
Learning how to grow spinach might not make you Popeye, but it will make you mighty.