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By Susan D. from Portland OR
I planted two tubs of Prizehead lettuce, One of the best. I forgot to plant more a couple weeks later. I went to cut some for a salad, this evening. I barely had a thimble full... and I was all set to pig out on Prizehead.
I scrounged around and cut a few tops from my very young Golden Purslane. Still not enough to cover the bottom of my salad bowl. I thought 'What would Robbie do'? (Robbie was an orphaned baby rabbit who befriended me). He ate most of my Bachelor Buttons. Well, if they are good enough for Robbie, they are good enough for me. Lucky me, he left a few leaves unscathed. I gathered them. Almost there!
Earlier, I had planted Calendula in a front flower bed. When they were about a foot high, a neighbor asked, 'Doug, what kind of lettuce are you growing there'? I explained that the plant leaves just looked like lettuce, and that it was a flower named Calendula. Bingo!
I went to my Calendula bed and cut several tender leaves. Then, I went to the kitchen with my cache, washed and dried it and tossed a rather sumptuous salad, which I topped with a cucumber ranch dressing. Golly, wish I had boiled and chopped eggs, earlier.
The Bachelor Button leaves were quite tasty (Robbie knows his stuff). They had much more flavor than, say, buttercrunch lettuce. Still, they were much milder than those tongue numbing mescluns. The Calendula leaves? Good. Not outstanding, they taste pretty much like the average leaf lettuce.
So, there. If you have a garden or flower bed, don't be afraid to rummage through them for off the wall salad ingredients. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Note: If in doubt, always Google any plant you're unsure of to make certain it's edible.
Robbie would approve.
Editor's Note Be sure to research any garden or wild flower before eating it. Here is a site with information about the safety of garden plants, with lots of good information to keep you and your family safe.
Lettuces and salad greens are cool season crops. The best time to sow them is in the early spring and again in the fall. Both seasons can be extended by growing them under cloches, cold frames, or protective row covers. Because salad greens cannot be stored for long periods of time, a continuous harvest can be achieved by making succession small plantings instead of one large one.
Different salad greens have slightly different cultivation requirements (e.g. spacing, thinning) but here are some general tips that you can apply to them all:
To keep your salads flavorful and visually appealing, mix lettuce varieties that have different colors and textures. There are dozens to choose fromhere are just a few.
Arugula (Eruca sativa): Also known as rocket or roquette, arugula has smooth, green, spiky leaves and a peppery flavor. Harvest the leaves when they are small, about 3 to 4 inches long. Make succession sowings every two weeks from early to late spring, thinning to 6 inches apart. Harvest about 5 weeks after sowing, cutting individual leaves or the entire plant soil level (they will re-sprout).
Endive/Escarole (Chicorium endivia): Endive is a lettuce-like salad green with a nutty, bitter flavor. There are two main varieties: escarole (broad-leaved endive) and the curly, narrow-leaved type. Both are ready to harvest approximately 45 days from planting. In grocery stores, endive is often seen blanched (with pale-colored leaves). This can be accomplished in the garden by covering the heads with a pot or cardboard box for several days before harvesting.
Mache (Valerianella spp.): Also called corn salad, lambs lettuce or lambs tongue, Mache has small, tongue-shaped leaves and a sweet and nutty flavor. Its grown as a winter green in mild climates and tends to bolt in warm conditions. Harvest leaves individually or cut the entire plant when it reaches 3 inches tall.
Mesclun (mixture of several species): Mesclun is a blend of gourmet baby salad greens that can be mild, pungent, or bitter, depending on what mixture you choose. Sow thickly in wide rows or blocks, two weeks apart, and harvest by snipping the leaves with scissors when leaves are only a few inches tall.
Mustards (Brassica spp.): These spicy greens are perfect for adding a bit of zing to salads. Most are able to tolerate heat better than lettuces and are well worth growing at any season. Give them full sun in well-prepared garden soil and consistent amounts of moisture. Plants grown in dry soil will develop a very hot taste.
Leaf Lettuce (Lactuca sativa): Also called cutting or looseleaf lettuce, these fast-growing, mild-tasting lettuces take only 45 to 60 days from seed to maturity. Many cultivars are available, with leaf edges ranging from wavy to frilly, or lobed.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea): One of the most popular and nutritious of the salad greens, spinach has dark green, oval, smooth to crinkly leaves and a sweet, mild flavor. Plant thinlyabout 3 inches apart. Harvest leaf by leaf or cut off the entire plant, usually about 40 days after planting.
Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris, Cicla group): Closely related to beets, Swiss chard produces greens for salads or cooking throughout the entire growing season. The leaves are always green, but the ribs vary in color (red, orange, white, or yellow). Harvest chard leaves when they are young and tender by snipping off individual leaves.
There are so many gourmet salad greens, its impossible to list them all. Here are some less common greens to consider for your salad garden. Many of these have strong flavors, so you may want to plant them in smaller quantities.