Tips to grow a salad bar in your garden

Tips to grow a salad bar in your garden

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Eat your greens! And your reds, golds, purples - even hot pinks and oranges. Today's zesty salad bowl is chock full of vibrant color, crisp texture and sweet, spicy, nutty and tangy flavors. Cultivate a very local Northwest salad bar right in your backyard with the following easy-to-grow, delicious "greens."

The mild climate of the Pacific Northwest and our long growing season create the perfect conditions for producing an abundant succession of delicious and powerfully nutritious salad crops throughout all but the very coldest months of the year.

Delicious greens are quick-growing, adaptable and tolerant of close planting. You'll reap maximum flavor in even the smallest garden or container planting.

Sow a mix of varieties and your salad will practically toss itself right in the garden. Simply snip, rinse, dry and dress. You'll never look at expensive, wilted bagged greens or bland iceberg lettuce the same.

Here's a sampler:

Arugula: This spicy-to-nutty-flavored green will germinate in the cold, wet weather of early spring. Plant "rustic" arugula for a lasting harvest throughout the heat of summer and on through winter.

Golden Purslane: This tough, drought-tolerant, succulent green produces juicy leaves throughout the hottest heat of summer and was recently found to be loaded with heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

Kale: One of the hardiest and most productive vegetables, kale is tolerant of cool spring weather so you can sow seed or set out transplants for an early harvest. Pick larger leaves throughout the summer to braise or steam. Fall frosts and freezes sweeten the still-standing plants, which continue to produce throughout winter.

Lettuce: Crunchy, buttery, crisp or tender, there's a lettuce for every season. Butterhead types prefer cool growing conditions while the robust romaines stand up better in summer's heat. Looseleaf varieties lend themselves to a continuous harvest.

Mache: A sweetly tender and mild-flavored green with tremendous tolerance for cold and freezing, mache is a perfect fall, winter and spring crop.

Mustard and Mizuna: This green's sharp, spicy heat livens up cool-season salads. Sow it continuously for a constant harvest of young leaves; a beautiful plant.

Spinach: These delicious greens are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are quick to mature in cool weather, so sow more heat-tolerant varieties for summer harvest.

Swiss chard: The beauty queen of the vegetable garden, these plants with brilliant stems of red, pink, orange, white and yellow produce large, tender leaves with a flavor similar to spinach for months when you harvest individual leaves.

Ruby Orach: Up with the first warming days of spring, orach, also known as mountain spinach, does well where spring is too short to produce a good crop of mild-flavored greens before the heat of summer. Brilliant pink leaves have a mild spinach flavor.

Salad garden harvest tips:

  • Cut-and-come-again: Cut the whole plant about 2 or 3 inches above the ground and leave the remaining crown to regrow.
  • Harvest just the outer leaves, leaving the younger inner leaves to mature. Keep up with maturing plants as the outer leaves are the first to become bitter and tough.
  • Harvest whole plants by thinning when young or at maturity.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, freelance writer, food enthusiast and garden designer, revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. She's the author of "Growing Your Own Vegetables" and "Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest."

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