Originally created 08/25/06

Grab bowl, head out to backyard for salad greens

Many people love to eat gourmet salad greens, but you don't have to pay a fortune for them if you grow your own.

Most of our salad greens are cool-weather crops. I know it is still hot but the cooler weather is just around the corner. We can typically begin sowing salad green seeds around the middle of September, and you can continually plant through late October. You can go ahead and get the seeds and start making plans.

Seeds of salad greens are sold as mixes or separately. The mixes might contain any combination of lettuces and greens. Some are tangy while others are mild or bitter.

- 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 green leaves with curly edges.

- Escarole has broad, wavy green leaves with a pleasant, slightly bitter flavor.

- Radicchio, or red chicory, adds color and a 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.

Plant 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 three to four 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.

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 might regrow for a second harvest. Cut them at ground level for a single harvest.

Look for the salad green seed packets at your garden center. If you have problems finding what you want, here are some seed companies that offer them for home gardeners:

- Johnny's Selected Seeds, 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901, (207) 861-3900 (www.johnnyseeds.com).

- Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 Old Salem Road N.E., Albany, OR 97321 (www.nicholsgardennursery.com)

- Territorial Seed Co., 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).

Sid Mullis is director for the University of Georgia extension service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu.


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