11 November 2010

I love to grow salad in the winter

Eating a plant-based diet goes in and out of fashion. Whether it is because of doctor’s orders, or sympathy with animals, thousands of Americans spurn seafood, red meat, and chicken in favor of nuts, fruits, grains and vegetables.

Nutritionists say that we can prevent disease with just two animal product free days a week.

Salads play a role in those two meat-free days, but with winter coming, appealing salad greens will be expensive and difficult to find. Fortunately, lettuce and other greens are reasonably easy to grow, even in the winter



Loose leaf lettuce, such as bronzeleaf and mesclun mix, are harvested a few outer leaves at a time and left to re-grow. Head lettuce, such as Winter Density Romaine and Arctic King butter head, are usually harvested all at once.

To grow lettuce in a protected place, all you need is seeds, a container filled with a combination of potting soil and compost, a fluorescent bulb light source and a watering plan. Loose leaf lettuce grown from seed is ready to harvest in 40 days.

Clear plastic clam-shell containers work well as mini-greenhouses for seed starting.

Fill one with 2-inches of moistened potting soil, sprinkle seeds on the top and spray with a hand-held pump sprayer. Close the top of the container and put in a brightly lit, warm location. The seeds should be kept moist and remain partially exposed to light. Open the container top when seeds sprout and transplant in a week.



To grow greens outside, use a homemade or commercial cold frame to protect plants. A raised bed made of a single square of cinder blocks, can be topped with windows or a frame of clear plastic on cold nights. Remove the cover in the morning.

On freezing nights, use a hoop tunnel topped with polyester such as mid-weight Reemay. Or, make a set of cloches out of plastic milk cartons. Just remove the screw top and cut off the bottom of the carton and secure over the plants. Remove in the morning.

One bale of straw can help. Spread it on the ground around the plants to protect the roots and when a freezing night comes, move some mulch onto the lettuce and then remove it the next morning.

Leafy green vegetables with thicker leaves, such as chard and kale, are more cold-hardy than lettuce, and are also easy to grow. Some years, we harvest red mustard, red Russian kale and dinosaur kale outside until February. Mache, also called corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, is a small, frost hardy lettuce that can be harvested through a few inches of snow.



Oriental, or Asian greens, such as pak choi, red mustard, rocket-arugula and mizuna thrive in the short days of winter. The leaves become more peppery and hot as they grow but are mild when small.

OSU Fact Sheet 6009 Fall Gardening (http://tiny.cc/e0bf1) suggests planting mustards (greens of all kinds).



In The Salad Garden, Tom Thumb suggests growing Amanda, Dandia and Magnet varieties in an unheated greenhouse over the winter.

East coast gardener Eliot Coleman recommends Brune d'Hiver and Mache for winter in his Four Season Harvest.

In Garden Primer, Barbara Damrosch says lazy gardeners choose fast-growing loose-leaf Salad Bowl, Bibb, Boston and Buttercrunch because they mature quickly. She says to maintain constant moisture and to fertilize with cottonseed meal or fish emulsion.

Salad Leaves for All Seasons: Organic Growing from Pot to Plot by English gardener Charles Dowding covers salad growing in containers, greenhouses and garden plots. For winter he recommends purslane, chicory, chard, mustard, Asian greens and radicchio.

Bountiful Gardens has seeds for many winter varieties – 707-459-, http://bit.ly/a0kR0O and bountiful@sonic.net.



Grow some salads this winter!

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