Fresh-picked greens have a sweet, clean flavor
At times, the garden seems like an adventure, and other times it seems like war. As usual, the French have a name for both, the pioneer. It was originally called “peonier,” meaning a foot soldier, taken from the Latin for foot. Foot soldiers go before the main army so “peoniers” evolved into “pioneers,” meaning the first or one who takes risks.
Nevertheless, whether a daredevil or a fortune hunter, pioneers in the garden are the first vegetables. Cool weather favors crops that grow fast and are not harmed by the cold. Many can be planted as soon as you can dig the dirt. The list is long of early cool-weather crops, including arugula (rocket), beets, cabbage, chard, mustard, kale, lettuce of all sorts, broccoli, pak choi, spinach and mizuna (an Asian green).
Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and green onions, also do well in cool weather.
Peas wilt in summer heat, but thrive in early cool spring. A welcome trend has been for gardeners to mix varieties of similar plants such as greens in what is commonly called mesclun. Our word “mesclun” is also French loosely translated meaning “to mix.”
Mesclun seeds are available as a mix or you can simply mix yours by combining seeds of chard, lettuce, dandelion, mustard and kale.
All greens are best picked young, say just a month old. If you cut the leaves about an inch off the ground, most greens will resprout several times before finally dying in the summer heat or going to seed in a process called bolting.
Fresh-picked greens have a sweeter, softer flavor than anything you can buy at the store.
In addition, because most novelty or heirloom greens are not available commercially, the only way to savor, say, Amish lettuce or Five Color Silverbeet Chard is to grow your own.
All greens are nutritional powerhouses with high levels of minerals and vitamins and few calories. The natural fiber of greens fills you up.
After working the soil into a smooth seedbed, simply scatter the seeds along the row. Gently cover with just enough soil to barely cover the seed. Carefully water with a mister or gentle spray so you don’t wash the seeds away. Figure a foot-long row of mixed greens for a typical salad.
Usually you won’t even have to fertilize greens, though they can use a boost of natural nitrogen for best results. Use fish emulsion, compost or even a light manure tea. To make a manure or compost tea, simply put a scoop of manure or compost into a lager bucket or watering can and let it dissolve.
Greens are filled with water, and their roots are very shallow so the plants need regular watering. Don’t overdo it or the plants may rot, and you will just invite snails and slugs.
Since your greens aren’t meant to flower or branch out, you can really squeeze them into a small space. They do well in planters too.
To keep the crops coming, plant more seeds every week or 10 days.
Carrots, peas, potatoes and green onions can also be directly planted as soon as you can work the soil. Potatoes will take the longest to mature. Carrots and green onions can be harvested as soon as they form, the smaller the sweeter.
Be bold and start sowing seeds now and you will be not only a foot soldier in the garden, but a true pioneer.