The temperatures are a little warmer, the days are a little longer and after heavy winter meals, there is nothing better than fresh salad greens to help usher in a taste of spring. While you can always check out your local farmers market or grocery store for what’s fresh, why not try growing a salad garden right at home? Whether you have an expansive back yard, a tiny garden or even just a sunny balcony, you can grow enough leafy produce to give your family a ready source of nutrient-rich salad greens.
Growing spring greens in containers.
If you are a beginner, you have limited space or poor soil, or if you just prefer an almost maintenance-free way to grow a variety of fresh veggies, container gardening is perfect… especially for growing spring greens.
Following are some tips about how to prepare, plant and harvest your own fresh homegrown greens.
• A nitrogen-rich soil feeds and supports leafy green plants. Mix compost or aged bagged manure into your soil with a garden fork before sowing seeds – both are good sources of nitrogen or purchase organic potting soil and fertilize young seedlings with seaweed-based organic fertilizer (found at garden centers).
• Many greens will grow easily from seed; simply bury the seeds 1/2 inch in the ground, tamp the soil and mark the area you planted with a stick or plant tag.
• Seeds should germinate in a week, and will be ready for the salad bowl in 25 to 45 days.
• For a jump-start on the season, purchase young plants at a garden center or nursery and transplant. Ask your local nurseryman about varieties that thrive in this region.
• Since lettuce and salad greens are 80 percent water, be sure to keep the roots and the soil moist yet not oversaturated.
• Dry soil adds stress to the plants, yet soil that is too wet will weaken the plants.
• Many greens are “cut and come again,” so harvest the greens, leave the roots and keep watering and they will sprout another set of greens.
• Harvest just above the soil line with scissors in order to keep the leaves clean and soil free. Shake off loose soil or grit.
Try some easy to grow, early-maturing salad greens.
Although many cultivated greens can survive the cool temperatures of spring, the ones listed below are exceptional at germinating, growing, and maturing early. Don’t delay in getting your container garden underway. These greens will not last when hot weather arrives.
Arugula (Eruca sativa). This easy-to-grow green is known for its spicy, nutty taste. In just 20 days after sowing you can harvest the baby greens; for a full head wait another 10 to 15 days. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Arugula can withstand a light frost and the flavor is mildest when the plant matures in cool weather.
Mesclun mix. These mixes are usually a blend of lettuce, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, beets, and Asian greens. Depending on the blend, the mix may be mild or spicy. The beautiful part of mesclun mix is that you can sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked, with the first harvest 30 days later. Because you begin harvest when the greens are 4 inches tall there’s no need to thin the seedlings.
Lettuce (Latuca sativa). While there is a plethora of lettuce varieties on the market, some grow better than others in early spring since their seeds germinate in soils as cool as 40°F. Unless you’re growing the lettuce as a mesclun mix, thin the seedlings when they have 3 or 4 leaves, spacing plants 6 to 10 inches apart. Start harvesting the outer leaves of loose-leaf varieties about 50 days after seeding.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea). Spinach is the classic cool-weather green, germinating in soils as cool as 35 degrees F. Once seedlings are 3 inches tall (20 to 30 days after seeding), thin the plants to space them 6 inches apart. Plants mature 20 days later. Spinach comes in crinkled and smooth-leaved varieties.
A fresh spring salad courtesy of Viking Cooking School
The Viking Cooking School in Ridgeland is offering a Salad Workshop this March that encompasses all of the skills and techniques necessary to break the hum-drum salad habit. Chef Matthew Sheeter shared one of the workshop’s taste-tempting salads with Well-Being. Among other great fresh ingredients, this recipe calls for spinach. Imagine serving fresh spinach from your own container garden. Start now and it can be ready to harvest before the end of April.
For more about Viking’s upcoming Salad Workshop visit, www.vikingrange.com or call 601-898-8345.
Spinach, Grapefruit & Avocado Salad with Prosciutto Roses
Although the combination might not be common, the flavors of zesty grapefruit and creamy avocado are wonderful together. The grapefruit sections and avocado slices are arranged on a bed of baby spinach and dressed with a tangy honey and lime vinaigrette. For a final flourish, the salad is garnished with thin slices of pleasantly salty prosciutto that are folded into the shape of rosebuds.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 cup canola oil
4 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves
1 medium pink grapefruit
1 medium ripe avocado
4 ounces prosciutto (about 8 slices), very thinly sliced
1. For the Dressing: Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients, except the oil, in a medium mixing bowl; slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly and vigorously to emulsify.
2. For the Salad: Wash and dry the spinach. Place in large mixing bowl.
3. Using a sharp knife cut the skin and pith from the grapefruit, revealing the inner fruit. Working over a small bowl to catch the juice, make v-shaped cuts between the membranes to release the fruit segments; reserve the segments and juice until needed.
4. Slice the avocado in half lengthwise around the pit. Remove the pit, then cut each half lengthwise into 2 pieces. Peel the skins off each avocado quarter, then slice each quarter lengthwise into thirds; brush with some of the reserved grapefruit juice. Set aside until needed.
5.Toss the spinach with 3 tablespoonfuls of the dressing. Divide the spinach evenly between four chilled salad plates.
6. Attractively arrange 3 avocado slices and 3 grapefruit segments, overlapping like flower petals, on top of the spinach.
7. Roll the prosciutto slices into roses, using 1 ounce of prosciutto per salad; set a prosciutto rose in the center of the avocado and grapefruit slices. Drizzle with a bit of the remaining dressing, and serve immediately.