I wrote this article looking out the window at five inches of fresh snow and asking “what do I tell people to grow this early?” The answer to early season gardening is- “grow greens!” There is a wide range of these plants that appeal to many palates and are generally easy to grow.
Many greens can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, long before other vegetables can go in the ground. We start even earlier by starting several lettuces, spinach and radicchios in trays or plastic rain gutters I use for starting.
One Vegetable-One Community has several greens available this year including a salad blend, tatsoi, chard and leaf lettuce. You can find many more greens available today than in years past. Flavors include piquant arugula, tangy endives, nutty radicchios, sharp mustards, mild leaf and crisphead lettuces, peppery roquettes, and bitter endive and other mustards. Find the ones that you like! Combinations create lively salads.
You can start indoors four weeks before planting out. Use a good starting mix with temperatures from 65-68 degrees. Many greens need light to germinate so don’t cover them. Most germinate in 7-10 days, some in as few as 3 days. Always consult the package directions for planting depth and germination timing. Water with a light fertilizer mix after they emerge.
If you start outdoors, you can plant many as soon as the soil can be worked. Raised beds are especially great for greens. Others plant greens in “blocks” from two to three feet square so you don’t have to reach too far to pick. Use no pesticides – you will be eating these plants! Row covers can be used to protect from light frosts; most like spinach tolerate frosts very well. Kale is good down to 20 degrees. It is important to thin greens, as they do not like competition.
Most leaf lettuces will let you harvest the outer leaves as long as you leave the center stalk; this is “cut and come again” growing. With beets, chard, and turnips you can remove the leaves and the root will grow new leaves. With butterhead lettuce, radicchio, and pak choi, you harvest the entire plant.
All greens need plenty water and light fertilizer to keep producing. When the weather gets hot, many of the greens will “bolt” or send up a flower stalk and the leaves will become bitter. That is the time to pull the whole plant and compost it. Fall is the next growing season for many greens.
If you have a greenhouse or indoor grow lights, greens can be grown hydroponically or in trays where the plant is sheared to harvest micro-greens. There is much information online if you want to explore growing this way.
Along with asparagus and rhubarb, greens start off the gardening season we have waited patiently for these long winter months. Make it a point to try some new ones this year and look for some recipes for some new taste sensations.
Click on “Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website for gardening information. Local Master Gardeners will now respond to your questions via Voice Mail. Call 218-444-7916, leaving your name, number and question. Our Facebook page may also be of help to you: <https://www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners/