The Crestone Eagle • May, 2019
Garden Guru: Spring Greens
by Matie Belle Lakish
Have you planted your spring greens yet? Greens for salads are some of the easiest plants to grow, and yield huge nutritional rewards. You can even grow them on your windowsill, if you don’t have garden space. In the garden, they come up quickly and yield abundantly, providing fresh salads by the first part of June.
Fresh salad greens are high in Vitamin C, as well as Vitamin A, folate, and several other nutrients. Most of the greens bought from the store are several days old by the time they reach us, and Vitamin C dissipates rapidly once the leaves are cut. By keeping some planter boxes on your windowsill or in your greenhouse, you have a great health advantage over store-bought salads.
To get the earliest leafy greens, start them indoors. There are multiple ways to do this. The easiest is to plant in a greenhouse. If you have a greenhouse, you may already be doing that. If not, you can get started immediately. All you need is some reasonably fertile soil and water. Lettuce and spinach are short-lived crops, as they will bolt (put up seed heads) when the weather gets hot. To ensure a steady stream of lettuce, you need to make succession plantings. That means, plant seeds about late March or early April, then plant again in June, and again in August or early September for a fall crop. If you have indoor growing space, you can plant again in January or February. This crop will be very slow to grow until the weather warms in March. By the end of March you should have salad greens again.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, as many of us do not, you can grow salad greens in pots, tubs, or plastic cartons on a sunny windowsill. Creative gardeners can use almost any container. I have discovered that I can grow all the salad greens I need in three plastic boxes 15” x 21” by 6” deep. I have an unheated greenhouse, but I could also put them in a sunny window. If my windowsill is narrower, I could use a narrower box or planter. I plant the boxes thickly, do not thin the plants, and harvest them by snipping the tops off near the top of the box. Just be sure to leave at least an inch of leaf above the center of the plant where the leaf bud is growing. The plant will grow new tops in a week or two. I use scissors to snip off a salad’s worth of greens, then move to another area of the box when I want another salad.
Salad greens are also easy to grow from seed planted outdoors, as long as you have soil, water, and protection from the four-footeds. There are very few animals that don’t like spring greens. Even my cat will sample them. Rock squirrels, who moved up from the southland over a decade ago, are very fond of small salad greens, as are rabbits, deer, and elk. If you don’t have a fenced area, you can protect young plants with floating cover. That is a thin, semi-transparent fabric that allows some sunlight in, but offers protection from critters and late frosts. You spread it over the plants very loosely and anchor it around the edges with rocks, boards, or pins. As the plants grow, you will need to be sure it is loose enough to provide head-space for them to grow. When it is time to pick, pull back the cover, pick, then re-cover. If you don’t have soaker hose, you will have to pull back the cover to water, then replace it.
Lettuce and spinach can handle some shade, but need sun for a few hours of the day. Greens also need plenty of water to avoid tasting bitter. Water at least every other day, and more often if you see them wilting. When planting outdoors, I like to thin the plants as they grow until they are about 6” apart. I use the young thinnings in salads. By summer, I can have nice-sized lettuce plants.
Besides lettuce and spinach, you can also plant kale, chard and mustard this month. These greens will last all summer and fall, so only need to be planted once. I usually plant these outdoors, but you can also plant them in a greenhouse where they may grow all year.
Other cool season plants can be started this month, like carrots, beets, and peas. Peas can handle cool weather, but if we have two weeks of cold, rainy weather they may rot in the ground. Hold off on planting them until we have a week to ten days of warm sunny weather. Soaking peas for a day or two will get them off to an earlier start. Onions are another crop that can be started now. Plant either little plants or small bulbs called sets. Both can be purchased at a garden center, such as the Green Spot in Alamosa or Brady’s in Salida. Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli plants can be set out mid-month, and potatoes can be planted. Plant small potatoes or chunks of larger potatoes with at least one eye. Cover with at least two inches of soil, then mulch well.
Frost-sensitive plants such as corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes may need to wait until the first of June to be assured that they will not freeze. However, if the month is warm and sunny you may want to plant them toward the end of May. Just be prepared to cover them if a cold night threatens.