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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 3.26.2009

 

Nesting Green Home & Garden Special Issue

Conserving Water, Anticipating Surprises A profile of Deborah Brady

Small Space, Big Tastes Ten herbs you can grow in your apartment

Not a Yolk Backyard chickens produce

Eco-Paint the Town Environmentally friendly options

On the Wing Plants that attract birds and butterflies

2009 Spring Planting Guide

 

Seasonal Salads

What to plant for tasty greens year-round

By Rachel Foster

When I was growing up, salad meant lettuce (home-grown, in spring and summer) with a bit of tomato and cucumber on the side. My mother would chop up some leaves of French sorrel and whatever green herbs were in season to add a little variety. Now, years later, I know that in a mild climate it is possible to have home-grown salad greens more or less all year round. And, of course, lettuce is not the only staple ingredient. 

Deborah Brady in her cloche or greenhouse

Salad plants are among the most worthwhile vegetables to grow at home. You can plant exactly the kinds you prefer and cut only as much as you need: Salad is incomparably better when absolutely fresh. It’s been years since I had a vegetable garden, but last spring I grew a big pot of lettuce on the deck, and it really gave me a taste for growing my own. This winter I persuaded a couple of seasoned gardeners to share some thoughts about salad and to reveal what they choose to plant for a yearlong supply of greens. 

“My backbone lettuces for spring and summer planting are Continuity, a butter crunch with red bronze edges, Red Sails and Black Seeded Simpson,” veteran gardener Deborah Brady told me. “These are all lettuces that stand up well to the heat, especially the Simpson. I direct seed but often start a flat in my house as well, to hedge my bets. It is a sad thing to wake up one morning and find your newly emerged lettuces were mowed down by slugs. Once lettuce plants are big enough to transplant, I gouge out clumps of them and plant them in blank spots where other things have failed to germinate. I also make a point of transplanting some near plants that promise to get big, like broccoli, to take advantage of the shade they afford the lettuce in the warmer months.” 

Brady plants garden cress (also known as pepper grass) near something slow. “The plants pop up fast and are harvested before they interfere with the growth of their neighbor. It is a very peppery green that I like to eat on a buttered slice of good bread. It also adds a nice zip to a salad. The tender young leaves of edible chrysanthemum add an unusual, slightly celery-like flavor. The yellow and white flowers are beautiful in salads,” she says. For a really spectacular presentation, Brady suggests adding some orach, a spinach relative that is harvested when young. She grows a dark purple one and a green one with a splotch of magenta. “Let a couple of stems go to seed,” she suggests, “and shake them around your garden to ensure happy surprises in future years.”

Volunteers are an integral part of Brady’s garden. “I don’t plant mustards or kale in the spring because I am pretty sated after eating them all winter, but I do make good use of any that choose to volunteer.” She thinks the best gardeners have the grace to let nature have a say in things. “I’ve had arugula pop up a full month earlier than I would dream of planting it, and it thrived. I have a stout volunteer Mizuna plant that has survived the entire winter, freezing weather and all.” Clusters of kale appear throughout the growing season. 

During the cold season, October through March, Brady grows most of her salad greens in a cloche, a plastic tent that serves as a greenhouse. “Given how expensive salad greens are in the winter, this is a great way to get a big gardening bang for your buck,” she says. Her favorite cloche greens are Arctic King lettuce (Territorial Seed), Frisee endive and Mizuna and Giant Red mustards. And Pak choy, but not the ones with fat succulent stems because they are less cold hardy. She digs a raised bed for the winter cloche and sows lettuce in mid to late August, mustard greens in September.

Landscape designer and horticulturalist Whitey Lueck also grows a late lettuce crop, and then moves on to mache (lambs lettuce or corn salad), a hardy little plant he learned about while living in Europe. Mache self-sows mildly around his garden, and he cuts and eats the whole small rosettes of dark green paddle-shaped leaves. Lueck also sows mache, quite thickly, in mid September, to eat from mid-November on. He mows the crowded plants with a knife, cutting almost to the base, and it re-grows. “When the mache peters out, I start on the Belgian endive,” he says. “By the time that’s gone, I have early lettuce coming on under plastic.”

Belgian endive? This isn’t a common crop in home gardens, so I asked Lueck to tell me how he grows it. “I sow it in May and transplant the seedlings about a foot apart. They make big green rosettes through the summer. Some people eat those, but they are too bitter for my taste. I dig the plants in November or early December and cut off the leaves an inch above the root. I trim the roots to about eight inches and plant them in compost in big garden containers and cover with a thick layer of sawdust.” Lueck leaves the pots outside for a couple of weeks and then transfers them to “a dark location in the cooler part of the house.” The creamy white shoots appear by the end of January. 

A profile of Brady is online at www.eugeneweekly.com