Garden Journal: Plant variety of lettuce in small spaces


Most people my age (post glacial era but pre-iPod) remember when the only salad green served at the supper table was head lettuce. Today, head lettuce is almost as rare as a manual typewriter (this one's for sale if anyone is interested). I don't plant head lettuce any longer, but I am planting an assortment of leaf lettuce varieties along with other leafy greens such as arugula, baby napa, chard, chervil, endive, escarole, kale, mache, mizuna, mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens and radicchio.

"Whoa!!!" you say. "That's a lot of seed packets to buy, and I don't have the space for all those types of greens."

Fear not. You can have a large assortment of greens without plowing up the south-forty or refinancing the ranch. Look for seed packets of mixed greens, often called mesclun mix. Some mixes we have planted in recent years had names such as Wine Country Mesclun, California Spicy Greens and Crispy Winter Greens. The best way to grow such mixes is in block plantings, about 2 feet by 2 feet. Raised beds work well for such planting. We divide a 4-by 8-foot raised bed into four sections, each 2 feet by 4 feet and plant several types of mixes. If space is really limited, grow the mixes in window boxes or patio pots.

Greens are best harvested when young by shearing the leaves with scissors as needed; sheared plants regrow new leaves in a week or two. This technique is known as "cut and come again."


Let's cut to the chase and get on with this week's tasks:

n Transplant seedlings of hardy vegetable crops to the garden. These include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, onions, leeks, lettuce and parsley. Though I have hardened (acclimated) my seedlings to the outdoors, I'll place a floating row cover over them after transplanting. Over the years, I've found that covering transplanted seedlings with row covers hastens their establishment and growth.

n Plant shallot and onion sets. Sets are small bulbs. This is the usual way to plant shallots but onions may be planted as sets, seed or seedlings. Planting sets is the easiest way for home gardeners to grow onions. However, in my experience, onions grown from sets do not store as well for winter use as do those grown from seed or transplants.

n Plant potatoes if you have the room in your garden. I don't consider potatoes a space efficient crop but even if I didn't have a large garden I'd plant some just to be able to harvest new potatoes. "New" potatoes are simply immature potatoes. These thin-skinned spuds are harvested in early summer. Though any variety can be used for new potatoes, I prefer red-skinned varieties: Chieftain, Norland and Red Pontiac.

n Work lots of organic matter into soils where you will be planting permanent food crops, including fruit trees, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus. You won't be able to incorporate as much organic matter into the soil once the plants are established. This soil preparation step is also the best time to add amendments such as limestone and phosphorous (only if needed, as determined by soil testing). All of the above food crops can be planted now once the soil is prepared.

n Take a stroll through a woodland park and look for wildflowers. Woodland wildflowers have a narrow window of bloom. Once trees form leaves and cast shade, most wildflowers disappear until next spring.

n Wear light-colored clothing, including long pants and long-sleeved shirt when strolling. This is not meant as a fashion statement for trendy gardeners, but such garb will keep ticks, especially deer ticks, from attaching themselves to your body and make it easier to spot the nasty critters. As further precaution, apply a repellent containing DEET or permethrin (I apply it to my clothing) before heading outdoors.


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