There’s a quirky thing about me. If I’m with people I like, I tend to think they’re all about my age. If my friends are doing things I’m doing I tend to think that of course they must know what I know. Well, after gardening since the tender age of eight, (ah…. hang the math, my abacus is too small ;)) It never occurs to me that my friend who recently took up gardening has a smaller knowledge base than I. That is until she asks me a direct question.
She is a very funny lady, and calls me her “Gardening Guru”. Recently we were discussing harvesting salad greens. She had cut a bunch that looked nice, but tasted bitter and she was disappointed. So herein are a few of the ‘secrets’ I’ve learned over the years and not less than several bowls of bitter lettuce of my own. Along with a few miscellaneous tidbits from the homestead.
The obvious first place to start is seed selection. There is a dizzying array of lettuce seed offering everything from gourmet greens, to special mixes. I usually mix my own seed for ‘spring mixes’ or what is commonly referred to as mesclun salad. One of the main rules I have about lettuce mixes is NOT to purchase pre-mixed lettuce/ greens. I have done so, and without fail have been disappointed. The heartier greens take over the lettuces and dominate without allowing for a second cut that is fairly mixed. If you wish to grow a lettuce & herb or greens mix grow them separately and them mix them in the salad bowl.
So here’s the target. A nice healthy row of tender young lettuces. Since it’s been raining every day here Mother Nature has taken care of one of the FIRST and most important rules of harvesting great salad greens. WATER!! Make sure that the salad you will be harvesting has been thoroughly watered the night before you plan your harvest. Yes, planning ahead makes for a better salad. If you do not water the lettuce you run the risk of a limp salad. Lettuce is primarily water held together by a few plant cells with their conveniently sturdy cell walls.
Second rule: harvest your salad in the morning. This will ensure a nice sweet crispy salad. Later in the day the plant chemistry changes as the sun beats down and photosynthesis is at its peak.
Third rule: Bring a bucket or bowl or something with water in it. I use scissors to cut the salad. A sharp knife will do also. Do not pull them or pluck, they are small plants and the risk of yanking them clean out of the dirt is very high and of course, not what you want. Think of the tender lettuces as flowers. Removing them from their life source, is a shock. Give them some ease with a dip in cool water, they’ll be so thankful they will fairly leap from the bowl to get into your mouth.
Well, it is hard to focus on one sole thing in a garden, at least for me. There were a few more asparagus to grab (dang still none in the wood chip area), and a bit of spinach from a punky row that I’d hoped would be flourishing by now…not. At least they’re big enough for a salad.
The second half of this row I will cut in a day or two. While this row re-grows I have other rows that have been planted in succession for follow up salad. It’s not too difficult to keep yourself in fresh salad with this method.
How many cuts per row? Usually two or three. A well fed and watered row will re-grow in about two more weeks. You’ll know when it’s done, the taste will be off, and the leaves will be all straggly.
Finally: Bring it in the house and give it a very thorough rinse. I usually fill the sink up and slosh everything around in there two times. Then spin it off. This is a very important step, don’t think you can skip a salad spinner. Lettuce that is bogged down in water will rot.
For some strange reason, spinach does not thrive on the farm. I’ve tried it many different times and ways. Our soil test is spot on. Everything else is great…just not a spinach grower I suppose. Thankfully, there’s tons of lambs quarters randomly scattered about that serve equally as nicely and much less ‘needy’ I might add.
These are snow crown cauliflowers. There aren’t too many of them as I usually grow most of the cauli’s in the fall. But I’ve been loving the roasted cauliflower so much that I thought, why not!?
Below is a shocking contrast of the mulched and unmulched asparagus row. Wahhhhh. I’m still holding my fingers crossed though for a mulchy break through.
My parting shot today and my task du jour: The corn patch. Every year we plant a single corn patch. Last year was an heirloom Amish popcorn. This year’s crop will be Floriani Red Flint corn, an Italian heirloom. Here lies the patch waiting for the seed….to the tune of “one for the rook, one for the crow, one for to rot and one for to grow”
OH so much work to do… So much to be thankful for. Have a good’un folks.