Homesteading – Eat a Salad From Your Garden Everyday
Hardly a day goes by without mention of the obesity crisis in our country which now costs us an estimated 1.4 trillion dollars a year. My wife and I struggle with weight just like everyone else. On a recent trip I gained 5 lbs in less than 4 days! I was able to lose those 5 lbs once I got home and returned to one of the life-changing habits that we have developed from our home food production system. We eat a salad everyday from our garden (except for vacations). We also consume a lot of greens in our breakfast smoothies and soups, stir fries, omelettes, and casseroles.
Either I transplant seedlings purchased or I broadcast seed from catalogs (diverse selection of varieties but more expensive) or local garden supply stores (traditional varieties but very affordable). Broadcasting seed is the easiest and results in a dense bed of baby greens. Depending on irrigation and predicted weather, I will concentrate the broadcast seeds where they will get regular moisture (that may mean along a drip irrigation line). As you cut the larger leaves, new plants are underneath and ready to emerge. Dense plantings result in lots of undersized plants which are great for a baby leaf cut-and-come-again salad but not good if you want a full size head of romaine lettuce for a Caesar salad. Make sure that swath cutting of greens is only getting edible greens. Don’t accidentally cut parsnip greens for example, that would make for a toxic salad! For full size heads of leafy greens you will need to give them enough space – 6 to 12 inches in the row and 12 inches between rows.
If you buy a large diversity of seeds it is worth storing them correctly to get multiple seasons out of them. Put them in the refrigerator in a seal-able glass jar when they arrive. After you have planted for the season, store them in the freezer. Keep them dry and cold and germination rates will be good for several years in most cases.
The following is our annual plan to keep leafy greens coming in all year round.
Spring and Fall Planting
In early to mid-March and again in late August to early September plant a diversity of leafy greens. The cool season of spring (March – May) and fall (Sept – Nov) are the easiest times to grow most salad fare plants.
Loose leaf lettuce – I always choose a red variety to add color to the salad. I plan on adding an oakleaf varieties for salad texture in the future. This year we are transplanting variety Red Sails and I will space those transplants 6 inches in the row and 12 inches between.
Spinach – varieties Bloomdale and Carmel are varieties that I transplant in the spring and fall respectfully. Tyee and Hybrid 7 are varieties that we may broadcast to give us leaf texture and color diversity.
Swiss chard – Bright Lights are a favorite. For cold tolerance choose non colored stem varieties like Argentata.
Kale – Winterbor types are very cold tolerant. Red Russian is one of the sweetest varieties that we plant.
Beets – a homestead favorite because the greens are delicious and you also get a
root that we like to pickle (for salad eating or using as a side dish) or boil and freeze (added to a breakfast smoothie they give a neon color). I plant Bull’s Blood beets in the spring because I love the deep red leaves. We choose Cylindra beets in the fall because they are very cold tolerant. I like to broadcast these seeds (mostly for the baby greens) and plant transplants (for the greens and roots).
Turnips – another homestead favorite; delicious greens and a surprisingly tasty root.
We slice and roast turnips for a side dish or use them as a mashed potato substitute. Variety Purple Top is common and delicious.
Cabbage – a red variety like Ruby Perfection is typically what we go with.
Heat tolerant greens are a little trickier and the ability to have a fresh salad from your garden in July and August is the sign of a skilled (or lucky) gardener. We plan on planting heat tolerant greens multiple times in early May, late May, mid-June, and early July. This successional planting schedule will provide some insurance if one of the crops fails, gets eaten, or runs out of steam.
Mustard Greens – varieties like Golden Frill and Green Wave can do very well in the heat if you like that mustardy spice in your salad.
Asian Greens – Purple Lady Bok Choy brings a lovely purple color to salads. We broadcast this.
Batavian Lettuces – variety Muir is one of the most heat tolerant varieties. Green Star, Coastal Star, New Red Fire, and Red Oak leaf are also great.
Vegetable Amaranth – there are both red and purple leaf varieties. These are cousins of pigweed so we know they love the heat!
Malabar Spinach – this is a tropical vine, not a true spinach variety. The leaves are a little succulent but tasty. Be careful, this plant will drop a lot of seed and it needs a trellis.
Sweet potato leaves – we plant Bearegard and Bayou Belle sweet potatoes. These leaves are delicious, just don’t over-harvest from one vine or you might reduce root yields.
Squash shoots – squash varieties that form a vine (most winter squash varieties) will produce excess biomass from multiple vines. You can pinch off the tips of these vines along with one or two under-developed leaves. These greens are prized in other cultures and are very tender and delicious in stir fries.
The cold variety greens should be started in mid to late Sept along with your regular cool season fall greens. Sometimes I do another planting in late Sept but I have found germination and growth to be poor if I wait until mid Oct (depends on the temperatures). I highly recommend you take a look at Pam Dawling’s data on what varieties endured the cold best. Pam is a market gardener guru and has written many excellent books are market gardening and food production. Pam lives in Virginia in a zone 7a, so her variety selections will work very well for much of North Carolina.
Kale – variety Vates survived -8 degrees F (outside and uncovered). Winterbor and Dwarf Siberian will also survive single digits.
Beets – Cylindra is one of the most cold tolerant and survived 12 degrees F.
Lettuce – some of the hardiest varieties include Buckley, Green Forest, and Tango.
Turnips – variety Purple Top survives 12 degrees F.