COLUMN: It’s the year of the salad greens

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Salad greens are easy to grow and have tremendous dietary benefits with many vitamins, phytonutrients and fiber. It’s no wonder the National Garden Bureau has named 2022 the year of the salad greens.

Historically, salad got its start not as a dietary staple but as an aphrodisiac.

The ancient Romans included leafy greens as a staple in their diet, calling them “herba salta” or salted herbs. Greeks believed that eating lettuce helped you get a good night’s sleep.

Whatever the history, there’s a salad green that you will enjoy; and they’re so good for you.

Types

Meet the salad greens families:

-The Asteraceae family is the best known; it includes lettuce, chicories and dandelion greens.

-The Amaranthaceae family includes spinach.

-More bold flavors are in the Brassicaceae family which includes arugula, kale and mustard greens.

-Consider going beyond these standard greens and try growing Asian greens or Swiss chard.

Growing conditions

Salad greens are cool weather crops; they thrive when daily temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees. You can start seeds or use transplants very early in the spring; some varieties can even tolerate a light frost.

Salad greens have a shorter growing season; combine that with being a cool season crop means you can grow salad greens again in late summer and harvest in the fall.

Once days become hot, salad greens will “bolt” and produce seed; the taste will be too bitter to enjoy.

Salad greens prefer full sun and soil that is moist but not soggy. Greens are great crops to grow in small spaces such as window boxes and containers. In the garden, use a good quality garden soil amended with compost. In containers, use a potting mix mixed with compost, not garden soil.

Salad greens are easy to start from seed; be sure to read the information on the seed packet for guidance such as spacing and thinning. You can also find plants for sale very early in the season.

For the beginner, consider baby leaf varieties. You can start harvesting these when leaves are 3 to 4 inches tall, and many varieties will tolerate “cut and come again” harvests.

The flavor of greens can alter based on whether you harvest them in cooler or warmer temperatures. Experiment and see what flavors you like the best.

Swiss chard and kale can be grown all summer and into fall. Use the larger leaves for stir-fry recipes and soups. Both plants can tolerate a mild frost; in fact, taste can even improve after being hit by a frost.

If you do use seeds to start with, some salad greens have very tiny seeds, making it difficult for people to handle. You can find pelleted or coated seeds; these seed covers are not a health hazard and will break down after you plant.

With the variety of color and textures that are available in salad greens, have fun, be creative and consider creating a theme to your plantings.

For growing tips and varieties of salad greens visit the National Garden Bureau’s website at https://ngb.org/year-of-the-salad-greens.

If you missed signing up for the current master gardener volunteer training, we can put you on our list for the next upcoming training. For more information, call us or visit cceoneida.com and click on the Facebook and YouTube icons at the bottom of the page for great research and garden information or phone 315-736-3394, ext 100.

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