Looking forward to a scrumptious spring salad again? ME TOO! There’s nothing quite like the first-of-the-season homegrown greens for flavor and freshness. Warmer weather is right around the corner in most regions, so it is time again to begin planning for those early greens. I’ve compiled a list of organic spring salad varieties (including radishes) that are great garden starters as well as some growing tips that will be sure to help guide you through from seed to salad! You may even want to think about the option of starting earlier by building a simple cold frame. (Several examples can be found here: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-build-a-Cold-Frame/)
Some folks prefer a pre-destined mix while others like to design their own. If you’re interested in compiling your own unique blend, here are a few things to think about. Your flavor palate will guide you best, but it is nice to have visual diversity as well. I chose my signature mix by including a variety of characteristics:
- mild to spicy
It is also good to take into account the days to maturity and the amount of space you have in your garden. You can use the Spring Salad Planting Guide to help you choose varieties and also to plan for the time and space needed for each variety.
Preparing the Soil
It is always important to incorporate organic matter into your garden soil each season. You can do this by tilling in your fall planted cover crop, finished compost from your backyard compost pile or composted manure, or a combination of these measures. If you haven’t already had your soil tested in the fall, it is a good time to send a soil sample into your county extension service. (For tips on this: http://www.highmowingseeds.com/A-Soil-Sample-Primer.html.) The soil report from your extension agent will include a plan on how to amend your soil for nutrient management appropriate to your specific soil needs. After you have made all the proper amendments, you will need to decide whether to use raised beds or not. In dryer climates with adequate soil drainage, raised beds are not necessary. In regions with lots of rain or with soils with poor drainage, raised beds can be very useful. You can build the height of the bed based on how much or how little drainage you need.
While initial soil amendments may be enough fertilization for your first plantings of greens, a light sprinkle of kelp in with your seeds can help boost the health of the plant. Other fertilization options for baby greens include watering with a mild dilution of liquid kelp fertilizer or fish emulsion every 2 weeks. In most regions, leaf eating insects are not usually a problem from the onset, but can be an issue in some climates and in subsequent sowings. Optimal plant health from proper fertilization greatly helps protect the plant from insect damage. Row cover can also be a useful measure in protection from insects.
Cut and Come Again Harvest
Most varieties of baby greens can be harvested more than once per planting. When your greens are ready for harvest, you can use a knife, scissors, or specialized salad greens harvest equipment. By cutting the leaves above the growing point, the plants will continue to produce new leaves so that you can enjoy 2-3 harvests from the same sowing.
If your garden space allows it, why stop with your first planting when you can stagger multiple plantings into blocks for a continuous succession of harvests all season long? It takes a bit of extra planning in that you must allot for the space for subsequent plantings. By using a planting calendar, you can more easily remember to sow your seeds every three weeks. This way, by the time your first planting is exhausted by its third weekly harvest, your next planting is ready to go with no lag time between salads!
Whatever varieties you choose, sowing spring salad greens are easy, fun, and deliciously rewarding. I bet you can’t wait to sink your teeth in to your first leafy harvest of the season!