By George Boyhan
University of Georgia
Gourmet salad greens don't have to cost a fortune. You can easily grow your own.
Most salad greens are cool-weather crops. Depending on where you garden in Georgia, you can start sowing salad green seeds in August and continue every week through late October.
Seeds of salad greens are sold as mixes or separately. The mixes may contain any combination of lettuces and greens. Some are tangy. Others are mild or bitter. Combine them with a zesty dressing, and the salad is no longer something that's just good for you.
Arugula has a toasty, pungent flavor and is a favorite for mixes. It's rich in beta carotene and higher in vitamin C than almost any other salad green.
Endive is in the same family as lettuce. With smooth, pale, long heads, it has more flavor than many lettuces. Curly endive, sometimes called chicory, has curly edged, green leaves.
Escarole has broad, wavy green leaves with a pleasant, slightly bitter flavor.
Radicchio, or red chicory, adds color and mildly bitter flavor to salads.
Mache, also called corn salad, has velvety leaves and a mild taste.
Watercress has pungent sprigs that look like parsley. Cresses have a peppery flavor, while mustards "bite" your tongue.
How to grow themPlant salad green seeds a quarter-inch deep in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. You can space them as close as 6 to 12 inches if you plan to harvest young, immature leaves.
To keep those fresh salads coming, plant about 5 feet per week through the fall.
Salad greens can be grown in semishade but do best with at least 3 to 4 hours of sun. Fertilize your greens moderately with one side-dressing. The growing season for lettuce varies with the cultivar. Most will be ready to harvest within 40 to 60 days. Head lettuce will take longer to form a head.
Harvest the greens with scissors when they're young. Cut the young leaves a half-inch to an inch above the soil and the leaves may regrow for a second harvest. Or cut them at ground level for a single harvest.
Seed sourcesHere are some seed companies that offer gourmet salad-green seeds for home gardeners:
- Johnny's Selected Seeds, 955 Benton Avenue, Winslow, Me. 04901 (207) 861-3900 (www.johnnyseeds.com)
- Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 Old Salem Road NE, Albany, OR 97321-4580 (www.nicholsgardennurs ery.com/)
- Territorial Seed Company, P.O. Box 158, Cottage Grove, OR 97424-0061 (800) 626-0866 (www.territorial- seed.com/stores/1/index.cfm)
- The Cook's Garden, P.O. Box C5030, Warminster, PA 18974 (catalog $1) (800) 457-9703 (www.cooksgarden.com)
(George Boyhan is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)
(Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)