Spring Greens: Kale, Lettuces, Parsnip greens and so much more!

lettuce

It’s that time of the season, planting greens before it gets too hot! I call this section of our garden the “salad bar”. Greens such as spinach, kale, chard and lettuces do really well in shaded areas, and do not require deep rooting networks so planting them in our front yard in the pallets is ideal.  This allows the prime real estate of our garden beds to be reserved for sun demanding plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, corn, beans and cucumbers.  This year, we will use the potato cages as a fence to make sure our furry kids don’t mistake our pallets for their potty.

We have such crazy weather in the PNW so growing tomatoes is tricky here. But for greens, our climate is ideal.  If you plant anything in your garden or want to start a garden, you can’t go wrong with greens! Give them a try–you won’t be sorry.

Do keep in mind that the greens you harvest will be a bit dirtier than the ones from your grocery store, so if you plan on harvesting a bunch, it might be worth investing in a good salad spinner.  I love mine!  I can’t imagine having to wash and dry the amounts of lettuce, spinach and kale we consume any other way.

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Already in the pallets, I see kale, lettuces, arugula, collards, spinach and parsnip greens peeking out from the dirt in neat little rows. I can’t wait for the luscious greens to be big enough for a daily harvest for fresh salad.

I think for the most part, all of the greens grow similarly. They bolt when it gets too hot and get tougher with age.  Young leaves can be eaten raw in a salad and older sauteed or in a smoothie/juice.  Older salads tend to be bitter, if that happens, the chickens gladly eat them.

Chard:

lettuce

Known as the beet that forgot how to produce a bulb, we grow and eat this vegetable on a regular basis.  When young, it’s excellent raw and as it ages, and gets tougher, we sautee it with either egg or leftover sausage. Planting in early spring (ours just poked through the dirt) will yield plentiful harvest throughout summer and fall. Sow directly into the ground and thin out when the plants are about one to two inches tall.  I use the thinned out chard and other greens in a fresh spring salad–nothing goes to waste here!  Harvest by snipping of the outer leaves (don’t pull or you might damage the root) and the leaves will regrow for continuous harvest.  We usually have about six plants and towards the end we give a lot away because we are so sick of eating it.  Come December, we start to miss it.

Kale:

kale kale

Another favorite of mine.  Kale grows best in cool weather and if the plant is fully established, kale will withstand freezing conditions.  It can be planted as soon as the danger of frost has passed and again in late July or early August for fall and winter harvest.  If you have a cold frame, a greenhouse or anything in between, chances are, kale will survive the winter (here in the PNW) and produce fresh leaves as early as late February. Directly sow the seeds into the soil about half an inch deep and wait anywhere from 5 to 15 days for them to germinate. Thin plants out when they are big enough for a salad.  Since kale is a member of the cabbage family, avoid planting in the same spot as any of the Brassica family plants, as this can encourage whiteflies and other pests. Harvest young leaves when they are a few inches tall and enjoy fresh or sautee it as the plant gets tougher with age.

Spinach:

spinach

We eat a lot of spinach.  Raw or cooked, I love it.  I appreciate that it can be planted a month before the last spring frost and a month before the last fall frost.  If planted every few weeks, it is possible to have a continuous supply of spinach.  Thinning of the plants is necessary. We usually wait until we can collect enough for a micro salad.  Harvest the outer leaves in the morning and store in the fridge as it tend to wilt at a fast rate.

I make a delicious “green” borscht and one of the ingredients is  spinach, along with a bunch of other greens and herbs. I also love spinach in an omelet.  The only way I will NOT eat spinach is if it is boiled!

Here are planting direction from the Old Farmers Almanac

http://www.almanac.com/plant/spinach

  • Prepare the soil with aged manure about a week before planting, or, you may wish to prepare your spot in the fall so that you can sow the seeds outdoors in early spring as soon as the ground thaws.
  • If you live in a place with mild winters, you can also plant in the fall.
  • Although seedlings can be propagated indoors, it is not recommended as seedlings are difficult to transplant.
  • Spring plantings can be made as soon as the soil can be properly worked. It’s important to seed as soon as you can to give spinach the required 6 weeks of cool weather from seeding to harvest.
  • Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.
  • Sow seeds 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep, covering lightly with soil. Sow about 12 seeds per foot of row, or sprinkle over a wide row or bed.
  • Soil should not be warmer than 70º F in order for germination.
  • Successive plantings should be made every couple weeks during early spring. Common spinach cannot grow in midsummer.
  • For summer types, try New Zealand Spinach and Malabar Spinach.
  • Plant in mid-August for a fall crop, ensuring that soil temps are cool enough.
  • Gardeners in northern climates can harvest early-spring spinach if it’s planted just before the cold weather arrives in fall. Protect the young plants with a cold frame or thick mulch through the winter, then remove the protection when soil temperature in your area reaches 40º.
  • Water the new plants well in the spring.
  • Fertilize only if necessary due to slow growth, or use as a supplement if your soil’s pH is inadequate. Use when plant reaches 1/3 growth.
  • When seedlings sprout to about two inches, thin them to 3-4 inches apart.
  • Beyond thinning, no cultivation is necessary. Roots are shallow and easily damaged.
  • Keep soil moist with mulching.
  • Water regularly.
  • Spinach can tolerate the cold; it can survive a frost and temps down to 15ºF.

Collards:

This is our first year growing collards.  It should be very interesting as the plant can withstand lots of heat but can also be frost tolerant. I don’t know much about this plant but we sure love eating them. We use them as wraps or saute them up with some bacon–mmm, bacon!

The national gardners assocition has a good site/information for growing collards, since I know very little, here is what they say about planting this delicous gem: http://www.garden.org/plantguide/?q=show&id=3344

For a spring crop, sow collard seeds directly in the garden 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. Sow seeds ½ inch deep and 3 inches apart. When seedlings are a few inches high, thin to 6 inches apart; as plants grow, thin to 12 to 18 inch spacing so they have plenty of room to develop. To get a jump on the season, you can start collards early indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost date, moving hardened-off seedlings to the garden about 2 weeks before the last frost.

Tolerant of cool conditions, collards make a good fall crop in many parts of the country. Sow seeds in late summer or early fall, about 10 weeks before the first expected fall frost date. In warmer parts of the country, late summer and fall sown collards can be harvested through the winter and into the spring.

Lettuces

Probably the easiest to grow in the PNW!  Lettuces are cold hardy for the most part. They do well in the shade.  They enjoy the sun but not too hot, as they bolt easy.  Lettuces can be grown starting early spring and into the fall.  Clipping the outer leaves and succession planting will allow for a continuous harvest.  Lettuces must be well irrigated for the best flavor.  They get bitter if they are stressed and old.  Sow directly into the ground and thin just like you would any other of the greens described above.

Lettuce needs no introduction in the culinary world.  We eat it as a salad daily, I like to snack on it or use it for wraps.

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