Grow greens fast

Two harvest techniques provide fresh options in the kitchen
Lauren Bonar Swezey

Teenage Greens Salad

Growing your own salad greens trumps buying grocery lettuce any day. Not only is it easy to do, it allows you to experiment with new flavors and different ways to serve. Now in our own backyard, an innovative chef and a seedswoman have helped pioneer two new harvest techniques that further expand our culinary options.

At Parcel 104, a restaurant in Santa Clara, California, executive chef Bart Hosmer's baby lettuces have grown up ― just a little. At 4 inches long, these "teenage lettuces," as he calls them, are more mature than baby greens. That means their flavors and textures have been allowed to develop, yet there's none of the bitterness sometimes associated with mature lettuce leaves.

"I was looking for a way to present a salad other than as a pile of limp mesclun," Hosmer says. "Teenage lettuces are still young and brash, and that's when their flavor is best." His favorite types include red or green 'Deer Tongue', and Batavian (crisphead) lettuces such as 'Rouge Grenobloise'.

Taking the opposite approach to Hosmer, Judy Seaborn of Botanical Interests seed company in Colorado developed a harvest technique that produces an even younger crop than mesclun (greens snipped when about 2 to 3 inches long). These sprouted greens are snipped off right after their first true set of leaves forms.

For months Seaborn experimented with different cool-season varieties until they met her criteria ― pretty, good-tasting when small, and with similar germination rates ― then dubbed them "micro greens." The mixes come in two flavors: a spicy one, which contains cress, mustard, radish, and red cabbage; and a mild one made up of kohlrabi, pak choy, red beets, red cabbage, and Swiss chard.

Whichever method you try, growing your own greens gives you flavor, convenience, and flexibility ― all at your scissor tips.

INFO:  Botanical Interests (800/486-2647 for retail locations)

 


Growing tips

Follow these steps for great results in the garden.

Preparation. Plant greens in the ground or in containers. In the ground, amend soil by mixing in 3 to 4 inches of compost or other organic matter. If planting in containers, choose a pot at least 10 inches in diameter and fill it with potting soil to within 1 to 2 inches of the rim.

Watering. Keep the soil moist but not soggy (check daily if starting from seed).

Feeding. Fertilize with fish emulsion every two weeks, or use a dry, organic fertilizer according to package directions.

Teenage lettuces

Planting. Start with seedlings purchased at the nursery and plant closer together than recommended, 5 to 6 inches apart. Or sow seeds 1 inch apart in thoroughly moist soil and thin to 5 to 6 inches apart when plants are ½ inch tall. Make sure to grow enough for your needs.

Harvesting. Snip off individual leaves when they're about 4 inches long. New leaves will continue to form.

Micro greens

Planting. Sow seeds ¼ inch apart (mix with sand to aid distribution). Thin only if seeds were sown too closely. Sow successive crops every two to three weeks for a steady harvest.

Harvesting. Snip off clusters of sprouts right above the soil line when the first set of true leaves forms; they follow the initial cotyledons (seed leaves).