Archived Opinion

Despite my neglect, summer greens are coming on strong

I have not put the time into my garden this year that I usually do. Between a lack of rain early on and a failure to attend to weed pulling, the beds aren’t looking particularly attractive.

Even given my unusual neglect, however, there are still many vegetables to harvest and eat. Evidence, perhaps, of the undeniable will of living beings to produce, though perhaps not thrive, in the worst of situations.

Lettuce, the summer variety at least, is coming on strong, though it will probably bolt in the next week or two. There’s chard, beets, carrots and onions. The soybeans look good, too.

And busy I might be, but now is the time to plant a mix of greens to serve when the summer lettuce bolts and turns bitter. Sometime this week I hope to broadcast patches of kale, chard, collards, mustard, beets and arugula. I usually add whichever Asian greens I happen to have on hand, and this year that would be mizuna and kommatsuna.

Some people grow these green mixes on top of hay bales, crowning the bales with prepared soil mixtures or mushroom compost. This removes the possibility of weeds, and is a very nice idea, except that most of us would have to buy hay. At about $6 a pop right now through the local feed and seed stores, that route seems a bit pricey. You would, of course, get a desirable return on the cost of the bales because they would be turned to rich organic material for the garden. But still — there are less expensive ways to have your salad and eat it, too.

The other option is to pay great attention and care to the area being planted. Eradicate every weed possible, knowing that despite these great efforts, weeds will still compete and ultimately emerge victorious against the greens. All we can do is the best that we can, taking satisfaction in the effort, I suppose, if not always the results. Though in this situation, I believe the results will be surprisingly pleasing if you’ve not grown hot-weather greens before.

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Prepare the planting areas. Broadcast the seed (this means to scatter it liberally about by hand), rake the seed in lightly, and be prepared to water frequently if there isn’t adequate rain. In this case, adequate means enough rain to keep the beds continuously moist.

Germination occurs quickly this time of the year, almost as if by spontaneous combustion — within two or three days, generally.

These greens are to be cut with scissors, or handpicked, when they are still quite small: three to 4 inches tall is about right. You are not growing cooking greens, but young succulent baby greens to eat raw in the place of salad.  

I like to cover my greens patch with an insect barrier so that I don’t have to use sprays. The problem with that method is the possibility of trapping moisture, and a corresponding risk of rot, if we are experiencing a humid weather pattern.

Every two to three weeks, plant the mix again. This ensures a constant supply of greens for the table. And when you lose the race against weeds, you switch to the other beds that are now ready for cutting.

One other note: do not mix the greens. That is fine in the fall when you are allowing them to mature before cutting. With baby greens, however, there are extreme variations in rates of growth — one variety of green will grow wildly with great joyful abandon, others will pick their way into the world slowly, with apprehension and fear. It is imperative — if one is to sustain the greens beds for salad production — to keep them cut back. The new growth is what we are seeking for our salad bowls, and it helps if the rates of production are identical, or nearly so, when you go to cutting.

(Quintin Ellison at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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