How to Grow Greens

Although I do have a couple raised beds in the back, I don’t have much of a green thumb. I’m learning though, and have found that one of the easiest things to grow – whether you have space for a garden or just a couple of pots – is fresh greens. I’ve become addicted to trotting out to my backyard in the summer with a salad bowl, plucking leaves directly from the soil and tossing them in; having them so fresh and readily available makes us want to eat fresh greens – lettuces, arugula, parsley and the like – with every meal. Good news: they’re easy to grow, even if you’re not a gardener. And they make a great small-scale gardening project for young kids.

So where to start? From seed, if it’s early enough or you have a long growing season; otherwise jump-start your garden of greens with small plants that already have a head start. I’ve had success with mesclun mix (from seed, which grows a variety of small, delicate greens), as well as spinach and leaf lettuce. Mother Earth News suggests butterheads and Bibb lettuces can grow quickly, and some varieties are tolerant to cooler climates. Romaine is another good choice; it’s hardy, and can tolerate stressful weather conditions better than other types of lettuce.

According to Mother Earth News, lettuce seeds typically sprout in two to eight days when soil temperatures range between 55 and 75 degrees. You can continue to plant all summer in two-week intervals, guaranteeing a steady supply of baby greens; all types of lettuce can be planted from seed up to eight weeks before you anticipate the first fall frost. End with Romaine and butter lettuce, which can tolerate less than ideal weather conditions.

Mother Earth News suggests preparing your planting bed (or container) by loosening the soil and stirring in an inch or so of good compost or well-rotted manure. Yum! Sow seeds a quarter of an inch deep and an inch apart in rows, although some people simply scatter the seeds and hope for the best. If you do this – and it works – you’ll then have to thin your crop – that is, pull out the extra that are too close together, leaving the biggest, strongest ones with enough space between them to grow. New seedlings will appreciate some shade – too much hot direct sun can make them wilt or bolt – reaching up from their middles and producing a spindly plant instead of a nice head.

When it’s time to harvest, morning is a good time to do it; pluck leaves by hand or snip them with scissors. If your greens start to go to seed, pinch off the little cluster of seeds that appears in the middle stalk. When you wash them, dry them thoroughly; if you plan to store them, tuck a paper towel into the bag you store them in, to absorb any excess moisture. Stash in the fridge until you’re ready for a fresh, locally grown salad. Enjoy!

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