March is the ideal time to plant a pot (or plot) of delicious, nutritious greens.
NOTHING TASTES BETTER than a salad of greens picked freshly from the home garden. The month of March, while soil temperatures are cool, is the perfect time to sow the seeds of salad greens directly into the garden. Greens are easy to grow, as long as you have a sunny location; furthermore, you don’t even need a garden plot, because salad greens are easy to grow in containers.
When I was a kid, you could find only iceberg lettuce in the grocery stores. It tasted bland and was barely nutritious. Nowadays, seed racks and catalogs offer extensive selections of lettuce varieties that are delicious but also high in vitamin C, potassium, minerals and fiber.
Plant a mix of varieties for a blend of color, texture and flavors. Butterhead lettuce forms a loose head of tender, succulent leaves. The juicy leaves of the variety ‘Buttercrunch’ make me swoon, but my personal favorite (probably because of its name) is ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed’. Very slow to bolt (flower and go to seed) and sweetly flavored, the wild, colorful leaves are definitely reminiscent of Phyllis Diller.
Leaf lettuce never forms a head and comes in a wide variety of colors, including green, purple and red. ‘Red Sails’ is an outstanding variety with crinkly burgundy leaves that are gorgeous in a salad, and have a sweet and crisp flavor.
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Of course, if you enjoy Caesar salads, or simply like crunch and mild, sweet flavor, you’ll definitely want to sow a few varieties of romaine lettuce, as well. ‘Devil’s Tongue’ is a real beauty, with leaves that are dark red on top and green at the base.
While you’re at it, sow a few rows of spinach. Raw spinach leaves are delicious in salads, and are loaded with protein, minerals and vitamins. ‘Imperial Green’ is a sweet-tasting, slow-to-bolt Asian variety with dark-green, arrow-shaped leaves held upright, keeping them cleaner and easier to cut for harvest.
Also sow plenty of Mediterranean and Asian greens in your lettuce patch or container. Europeans have been growing Mediterranean greens to add zest and nutrients to their salads for centuries. A few favorites include arugula (also known as roquette or rocket), with spicy, peppery flavor; chicory, with deep-purple leaves and an earthy, mildly bitter taste; and endive (sometimes referred to as frisée), with attractive, frilly green leaves and tart flavor.
Asian mustards are extremely nutritious, and the raw leaves add a touch of spice to a salad. Two colorful varieties are ‘Red Giant’, with thick purplish-red leaves, and ‘Dragon Tongue’, with crinkled green leaves, purple veins and ivory-white midribs. For a colorful combination, grow ‘Ruby Streaks’ and ‘Golden Streaks’. Both have upright, narrow, wildly frilly leaves that will add sparkle to a salad.
Ed Hume Seeds and Territorial Seed offer delicious gourmet mesclun blends with varying combinations of lettuce and Mediterranean and Asian greens. It’s fun to sow these mixes in order to sample a wide variety of greens.
Leafy greens prefer moderately fertile soil and do best when temperatures remain below 75 degrees. Before sowing, work in one cup of an organic fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, potassium and phosphate for every 10 row feet, or into a whiskey-barrel-sized container. Keep the soil moderately moist at all times. Sow seed every two weeks through April to prolong the harvest. Handpick individual leaves as needed on a daily basis, but bear in mind that about three weeks after leafy greens reach their prime, flavor usually begins to turn bitter, so harvest the entire plant while the leaves are still sweet.
Do you have picky eaters when it comes to veggies? Tell them to eat their greens if they want to grow up to be as intelligent, good-looking and buff as I am. Only then, move on to the more-macho Brussels sprouts!