Mary's Veggie Garden

April 26, 2010

A Seasonal Salad: Mid-April

Filed under: Gardening,Greens,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 3:05 pm
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April 23 I went to the garden with a camera and a colander to capture a salad. This is the result:

Mid-April Salad fresh from a N.Y. garden

Ingredients:

Mache or Corn Salad - bolting

Corn Salad or Mache (Valerianella locusta) – Corn salad is the first green I harvest each year. It is a low growing rosette with a very mild flavor. I have not detected the “nutty” flavor others describe. I harvest mache by cutting the plant off at the base.

I let 3 or 4 plants bolt each spring then dry in my garden. With sufficient moisture some of the seed from the bolted plants will sprout in the fall. The fall plants over-winter quite well with no effort from me. They don’t mind freezing rain or being buried under snow for weeks at a time. More seed sprouts very early in the spring.

Mache can be harvested during the winter and early spring. All the mache plants are bolting now, in mid April. The leaves are less tender and the plants are developing stems that get fibrous. The mache was much easier to clean a month ago, before it bolted.

When if first I planted mache salad in 2002 I was very disappointed with the results. I only got a few small plants that bolted quickly. Now I understand why: the timing of my planting was all wrong.

Common Chives

Common Chives: a few chopped spears add a mild onion flavor to any salad.

Sorrel adds a lemon flavor

Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): this lemon flavored perennial is up very early in the spring. One leaf is enough for 3 salads.

Plant sorrel in a place it can stay: it is difficult to move because of its long tap-root.  If you don’t remove the flower stalks when sorrel bolts, you may find new plants next year.

Red Giant Mustard - baby plants

Mustard greens (reds?): I let a few too many mustard plants go to seed last summer. I now have about 200 square feet of garden covered by baby mustard plants. Mustard leaves have a spicy hot flavor – similar to a hot radish.  At this size they are OK in a salad, but I don’t like the heat of bigger plants.

If you zoom in on the mustard picture, you’ll see tiny yellow specks on the red leaves. The specks are pollen, probably from our Norway maple trees.

Fall Planted Spinach in April

Spinach: I’ve not been very successful with planting spinach in the fall for early spring harvest.  Last year’s efforts yielded only 2 plants.

Lettuce - Self-Sown

Lettuce: Last year I let several lettuce plants bolt and spread their seed around the garden. Usually I don’t find these ‘wild’ plants until early May, but this year they are early.

Violets

Violets: these are the common violets growing all over my yard though the plants I harvest are inside my garden fence. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, with a very mild flavor. A few flowers make a nice finishing touch.

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April 20, 2010

Lettuce: It’s Not Just for Vegetable Gardens

Filed under: Gardening,Greens,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 7:49 pm
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It is now time to plant lettuce in the Hudson Valley.

Planting lettuce is a great way to add color and beauty to spring gardens.  In early April tuck some lettuce plants into your empty planters or among your emerging perennials in the spots that won’t be filled by annuals until late May.

Mixed loose leaf lettuce.

Some lettuce types:

Loose leaf lettuce is the easiest to grow and provides the greatest variety of colors and shapes.  Its colors range from pure lime green, to rose blush, to deep ruby reds. With leaf lettuce, the leaves of the heads do not close tightly, instead forming an open rosette. You can harvest individual leaves as needed for salads, without harvesting the whole plant.  Leaf lettuces can be harvested for baby greens about 4 weeks after planting and they reach full size in 7-8 weeks.

Romaine lettuce is also beautiful in the garden.  Romaine leaves are thick, crisp, and juicy, so a Romaine plant is more upright than leaf lettuce. Maturity takes a bit longer, 8-9 weeks.

I do not recommend iceberg lettuce for the home garden because the entire planting matures at the same time.  Iceberg should not be used for baby greens.

If you are starting lettuce from seed, most brands offer packets of mixed seed. For the price of a single packet you get a variety of textures, tastes, shapes, colors, and days to maturity.

For the best lettuce, grow it during cool weather.  Lettuce seed can sprout when the soil is as cool as 40 degrees and the plants grow best at 60-65 degrees. As long as the weather is cool, the plants will stand well in the garden, but when it gets hot the plants bolt, ie. they send up flower stalks and turn very bitter.

The easiest way to grow lettuce is to start with transplants. When buying transplants, select several varieties so you have a mix of colors and maturities. I start my own transplants  around March 7 using commercial ‘potting and seeding’ mix in 1.5” cell packs. Sow only a few seeds per cell as it all seems to grow, and later thin the plants, leaving only the strongest plant in each cell.  In early April harden off the plants by putting them outside for short periods, gradually lengthening the time to all day. My lettuce goes into the garden the second or third week of April. Well hardened lettuce is not bothered by the frosts and freezes down to 28 degrees.

Lettuce transplant protected by cardboard cutworm collar.

Space lettuce plants 8-10” apart.Protect plants from cutworms by using cardboard collars. I use 1.5” strips cut from cereal boxes and bent to fit around the plant.  Mulch  heavily between the plants; this keeps the soil cool and moist. Lettuce must also be protected from deer.

Lettuce seed can also be sown directly into the garden or planter starting as early as late March. I’ve always been disappointed with my results, because there were very few seedlings. I suspect the cutworms and slugs in my garden gobbled up the young sprouts.

Plan now for spring lettuce and start gardening early this year: plant lettuce for early color and salads.

I  wrote this article for the February 2010 issue of Dutchess Dirt.

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