Mix greens in your garden

Grow mild and spicy blends for salads and stir-fries
Lauren Bonar Swezey

In the Mediterranean region, mesclun is best known as a mix of tasty young lettuces and piquant greens (arugula, chervil, and endive in France; chicory, curly endive, and escarole in Italy).

The crops now widely sold at farmers' markets and grocery stores as "baby greens" (the term often used for mesclun) can contain any greens you want ― from colorful sweet lettuces to a melange of mild or spicy leaves and edible flowers.

"Mesclun is about freshness," explains Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, which sells seeds for 10 different mixes. That's why the leaves are tastiest when harvested from your own garden.

Mesclun is easy to grow

Start a peppery mix in one bed and a mild lettuce mix in another, and you can blend your salads for every meal. By sowing seed every few weeks during fall and spring in mild-winter climates, or spring into summer in cold-winter climates, you can harvest a bountiful crop over a long season.

Mixes for every taste

Seed catalogs and independent nurseries offer a diverse selection of mesclun combinations, including imports from France and Italy and custom mixes.

Mild lettuces are perfect for everyday salads; to spice them up, add pungent greens such as arugula (also called roquette), chicory, cress, and spicy mustards. Chervil, endive, escarole, kale, mâche (also called corn salad), and mild mustards, such as mizuna, add flavor but not spice.

If you prefer to take the guesswork out of blending your own greens, choose a custom mix; view three of our favorites, grown and tasted at Sunset.

 

Planting pointers

In an area that gets full sun, dig compost into the soil; water the bed thoroughly. Sow seeds 1/2 inch apart. Seeds are small; to help distribute them thinly over the soil, mix them with clean sand before broadcasting. Cover the seed with 1/4 inch of fine soil.

Spray the seedbed very lightly with water, then keep the soil evenly moist during growth.

Drape a canopy of netting over the seedbed. Extend the season into summer by hanging shadecloth (available at most nurseries) over the bed.

GROWING TIPS

1. Thin seedlings when they've reached 1-2 inches tall.

Using small, pointed scissors, cut out individual plants (toss thinnings into salads). Or use a chopstick to gently pry up crowded seedlings, then transplant them in bare spots where seeds didn't germinate.

 

2. Snip leaves of overly vigorous greens (some mustards, for instance) that are overtaking other types in the bed.

Cut these plants back to 1-2 inches above the soil. By the time they regrow, the other greens will have caught up in size.

3. Harvest when leaves are 4-5 inches long.

Use scissors to shear part or all of the bed, cutting foliage to 1-2 inches above the soil level.

4. Fertilize plants lightly with fish emulsion solution after cutting them back; continue watering.

Plants will put out new leaves, ready to harvest again within one to two weeks.