Plant seeds or seedlings of greens in early spring or late summer and you'll have the ultimate convenience food throughout the cool season.
Picking just the leaves you need from your own garden really does save trips to the grocery store. And you'll have the freshest greens for dropping into salads, pastas, soups, sandwiches, and snacks.
Start with small plants from sixpacks to give your plot of greens a jumpstart.
For a real bargain and a steady crop, save space around the edges to sow a few rows of seeds. (They sprout in less than a week.)
Keep the soil moist, and if necessary, protect from birds and late-summer heat with a light shadecloth (available at home and garden stores).
Choose varieties for flavor as well as color ― from green to burgundy and red ― mixing and matching them to suit your tastes.
For easy tending, plant them in raised beds; we used four 4-foot square beds for the plantings pictured, although one or two beds this size can yield plenty of greens.
Grow greens in loose, well-drained soil. For prolonged harvest, sow seeds at one- to two-week intervals and beets at monthly intervals. (Where summers are short and winters cold, plant outdoors after last frost.)
Thin seedlings to about 3 or 4 inches apart, beets to 2 inches apart, and chard to about 1 foot apart. (The thinnings are edible ― sprinkle them in salads.) Feed plants lightly and frequently; control snails and slugs.
To harvest, pluck off outer leaves as needed. Harvest chard leaves about 2 months after sowing when plants are about 1½ feet tall. Harvest spinach when the plant reaches 6 to 12 inches tall by selecting outer leaves, or by cutting the entire plant.
5 ways to use
• Sprinkle baby arugula leaves on toast with chèvre; serve with Greek olives.
• Top a frozen pizza with fresh chopped spinach, either before or after baking.
• Sauté chard with garlic and olive oil. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.
• Make a meal of hearty greens, toasted walnuts, and curls of parmesan.
• Add coarsely chopped chard to white-bean soup just as beans are starting to soften. Serve when vegetables are tender, and dress with fruity green olive oil and fresh lemon juice.