Back on Day 2 of our Twenty-one Days of Green, we talked about planting chives. We chose chives because they have to be among the very simplest of all herbs to grow from seed. They are extremely useful in the kitchen and compact in the patio (or windowsill) herb garden. And every time we don’t drive to the grocery store to buy a plastic clamshell box of fresh chives flown in from Mexico, we can reasonably claim that we have reduced our carbon footprint.
So following that thinking, what are the other things we can grow easily to achieve the same end? Here is the moment to sing the praises of salad greens:
Salad greens range from being totally straightforward to somewhat demanding, but within that range are some of the tastiest and most nutritious plants of all. Everything we talk about here can be grown in containers (you don’t need a yard), and can be grown in partial shade (you don’t need full sun). Let’s break it down into digestible chunks.
The simplest and speediest form of salad greens are harvested one time from seeds that have just sprouted. These greens can be harvested within two to three weeks from planting. Microgreens can be produced from any kind of edible seeds, including crazy things like carrots and corn. We talked about Sprouts on Day 6. Because sprouts are grown in water, the seeds must be inherently quick to germinate, so the range of options is smaller. Microgreens are grown in soil, so there is no rush. Basil, by its nature, takes longer to germinate, so it would be better as microgreens than sprouts. Our Two Week Microgreen Blend is a great introduction to the colours, flavours, and textures that can be had by growing salad greens this way. Learn How to Grow Microgreens.
- Fast to grow
- Super nutritious
- Great diversity
- Good for containers
This concept simply takes microgreens to their next stage of growth. These crops wait for their second or third true leaves to develop, and most are ready to harvest at 25 to 35 days. Many baby-leaf crops can be harvested more than once if done with care — some of the leaves are taken and two to three weeks later, they can be harvested a second time. They can be grown individually or in blends called mescluns. Here are our favourite baby-leaf salad greens:
Amaranth – lots of flavour, appealing colour
Arugula – lots of flavour, can be spicy
Baby-leaf Lettuce – many colours and leaf shapes, mild flavour
Beets – look for Bull’s Blood which makes sensational microgreens as well
Cress – many flavours, can be spicy, super-fast growing
Goosefoot – lots of flavour, great colour
Huauzontle – what? Check it out – superb flavour
Kale – more tender and sweeter than mature kale
Mesclun Blends – find the flavour to suit your palate
Mustard Greens – incredibly diverse from mild to spicy
Nasturtiums – intensely hot, peppery flavour – not for the faint of heart
Peas – grow for tender, sweet pea shoots
Spinach – classic baby-leaf greens that are tender and sweet
Think Outside the Crisper
There might not be a vegetable with a deeper carbon footprint than good old iceberg lettuce. This crisp-head type took its name in the 1940s from the trucks and train cars piled high with ice to ship it from southern California all across North America. Consider for a moment, that nearly every fast food restaurant in North America depends solely on iceberg lettuce as their leafy green. That’s a lot of lettuce. And every crunchy leaf of it has to be shipped in refrigerated containers from the places it was bred to thrive in. Not a lot of it is produced outside the American southwest. The light colour, mild flavour, and high water content mean that there is a relatively low nutrient value to iceberg lettuce, compared to its darker red and green cousins. Has it trained us to prefer bland vegetables?
Well, we love the salad greens that are unashamed and packed with flavour. You might not know about all of them, but we encourage you to Commit to Grow one item that is just plain unfamiliar this year. Some of the most delicious salad green include:
Claytonia – So crunchy and succulent, with the taste of clear mountain streams
Corn Salad – Widely known in Europe, cold hardy, and fresh tasting
Escarole – A type of endive that grows in a flat rosette with pleasing bitterness
Frisée – Just like Escarole, but with feathery leaves that add an elegant lift to salads
Italian Dandelion – This endive grows upright, with dentate leaves to braise or sautée
Orach – Its mildly salty flavour is a delightful surprise in salad mixes
Purslane – Distinctly lemony, thick, succulent leaves packed with Omega 3 fatty acid
Radicchio – Sophisticated, subtly bitter flavour in crisp, exquisite leaves
Sugar Loaf – Like a romaine lettuce with style. Crisp and delicious!
Still not colourful enough for you? Check out our List of Edible Flowers. There are lots of reasons for all of us to eat more salads. And there are good ways to keep them fresh and changing throughout the year.