Darin Engh from Engh Gardens, walks us through what to plant to get a jump start on your garden.
5 EASY STEPS TO GROWING GREENS
1. To grow salad greens in a garden bed, prepare an area that’s 2 to 3 square feet. Break up the soil with a garden fork, so it has an even, fine texture. Or fill a container with good-quality potting soil. Then moisten the soil.
2. Pour seeds into your palm. (If growing several varieties together, mix the seeds first in a jar, then pour a small amount into your hand.) Close your hand and scatter the seeds as evenly as possible over the soil. Sift fine soil or potting mix lightly over seeds, covering them with a layer about1/4 inch deep. Sprinkle with water, wetting the soil gently but thoroughly.
3. Keep the seedbed evenly moist until seedlings emerge, usually in about one to two weeks.
4. After about 35 to 45 days greens should be roughly 4 to 5 inches tall, which is when they’re perfect for salads. Use scissors to snip off leaves, being careful to leave 1 to 2 inches of the plant above soil level. Gently wash and dry the leaves. Fresh greens are best used as soon as possible but can be stored for a few days in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper.
5. Keep watering the bed, and feed lightly with liquid fish fertilizer, available at Engh Gardens. Salad greens are “cut-and-come-again” crops that will re-grow, so you’ll be able to enjoy another couple of harvests.
WHY GROW YOUR OWN?
If you’ve ever sunk your teeth into the still-warm skin of a sun-ripened tomato right off the vine, you know the answer – incomparable flavor. Corn tastes sweeter, radishes snappier, and beans crispier when they are harvested from your own garden. Homegrown vegetables also retain their vitamins and minerals, can mean significant savings in the family food bill, and give you the chance to try unusual or heirloom varieties that you won’t find at the local market.
HOW TO GROW GREENS
1. Locate you garden in a sunny spot.
2. Enrich the soil.
3. Wait until the soil is thawed, then turn soil, and rake the beds smooth.
4. Sow seeds of cool-season veggies in early spring.
5. Create simple patterns. A plan helps determine how many seeds or plants you’ll need.
6. Plant edible flowers to set off your greens, such as Violas or Nasturtiums.
*PEAS are cool-season vegetables. They grow on vines that send out curly tendrils that attach themselves ferociously to any nearby support – even the stem of another pea plant. Peas germinate when the soil is still cool, grow vigorously during cool weather, and shut down when the temperature consistently hits 80 degrees. This means you need to plant your peas as soon as possible or “as soon as ground can be worked”.
*BROCCOLI prefers a cool growing season. Broccoli is one of the easier-to-grow members of the cole family. Harvest before broccoli heads open into yellow flowers. Cut the stem 6 to 8 inches below the head; when side branches grow, harvest them too.
*SPINACH is a cool-season crop that quickly fizzles out and bolts when the weather turns hot. As early in the spring as you can manage, plant seeds directly into your containers or garden. (Spinach germinates so well in cool weather that there’s no reason to start seeds indoors.) Like other cool-season veggies, spinach is tastiest when it grows rapidly, so water thoroughly and give a light application of a balance fertilizer a couple times during the season. You can slice off an entire plant, or pick individual leaves.
*RADISHES are the earliest, fastest vegetables you can grow, providing reassurance that again this year spring has actually arrived and growing season can begin. Success with Radishes is to lots of water – that’s what keeps radishes growing quickly. Radishes are a surefire success with children because they germinate in a few days and produce bright, crunchy bouquets fro eating just 3 weeks later.
*BEETS are a cool-season vegetable, which means you can start them early in spring and resow several times (mid March to early June for the first sowings, then again during the first three weeks of August for the second crop). Beets are easy to grow and fast to mature, they don’t take up much room, they don’t need a lot of maintenance, they taste better than canned, and you can eat the entire plant. The only drawback seems to be that for whatever reason, people don’t think of growing them. We urge you to include them for all the reasons above and more: you’ll get to enjoy the tops, which are wonderfully rich, smooth-tasting greens, an you can grow delightful varieties you’ll never find in a supermarket. From one plant you get two crops; the round red root that you envision when someone says “beet” and the leaves that grow above ground. The most reliable way to find beet greens is to grow them, for even fresh beets in the supermarket often have the tops chopped off. Very young, tender leaves are wonderful raw in a salad, and older leaves can be cooked like spinach. The secret of tender, tasty beets is to keep them growing fast, and that means consistent watering and fertilizing. Add a balanced fertilizer once a week, and keep a close eye on soil moisture. If the soil dries out, or if there is an alternating pattern of too dry, then too wet, the beets will become tough and woody.
*CHIVES are probably the smallest member of the edible and highly aromatic onion family, and in fact resemble miniature scallions. They have small bulbs; narrow, hallow, round stems of bright green with a bluish gray cast; and a taste like very mild onions. They are will adapted to container growing because of their small size and the fact that they grow in tight clumps. Chives are very hardy and quite prolific, multiplying by self-sowing their seeds or making new bulbs. All parts of the chive plant are edible, even the pretty lavender pom-pom flowers, the bulbs are left to multiply themselves and grow new green foliage. No matter how small your garden is, even if it’s just a kitchen windowsill, you can grow chives.
*SALAD GREENS are among the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow. Simple, sweet and tasty, they seem completely undaunted even as the winds of early spring howl over them. All salad greens need is a little soil, sunlight and water and they can be grown almost anywhere: vegetable gardens, alongside tulips in flowerbeds, even nestled into containers. They mix and mingle well. The most familiar are the iceberg and green- or red-leaf varieties found in produce aisles. But there are hundreds of other greens, including mustard greens, spinach, endive, radicchio, beet greens, parsley, and cresses, each with its own delectable flavor and color. Growing your own greens not only lets you try new and exciting varieties, but is a real cost saver, too. For the price of one packet of seed or one pony pack you can have delicious salads for several weeks. Some gardeners grow each variety of salad green separately in rows or planted in containers, while others combine four or five different kinds to create mesclun, a seasonal mixture of greens grown and harvested together. To get a continuous supply of delicious greens through spring and early summer, sow a handful of seeds every 10 days or so. Make final plantings two months before the maximum daytime temperatures average 80 degrees. Lettuce is most definitely a cool-season plant; it germinates better, and grows better, in cool weather. Bon appétit!
*ARUGULA The king of gourmet salad greens, arugula’s dark-green leaves have a sharp peppery taste and form an open head. For best taste, harvest leaves when they’re 2 to 3 inches long.
*SWISS CHARD This is a dazzler in the garden, with pink, red, bright-gold, pale-orange, white and mauve stems holding green to bronze-green leaves. It sends up tall, upright leaves on thick, succulent stalks; both the leaves and stalks are delicious. Use the stalks as you would celery or asparagus. The baby greens can be harvested to be eaten raw. Chard is vitamin factory that just keeps going from spring till frost.
BIGGER IS NOT BETTER – Don’t wait for vegetables to grow into monster-sized versions of the ones you see in stores unless they are specially bred to be large. Veggies left on the vine too long will eventually grow tasteless and tough.
MORE, MORE, MORE – Increase your harvest of vegetables such as cucumbers, beans, and peas by picking them faster. These plants will stop producing altogether if you leave them too long on the vine. Vegetable plants are on a mission to reproduce.
FRESH FOOD NOW – Pick vegetables and fruit just before you’re going to eat them. Most crops taste best fresh off the vine and lose their flavor if left to hang around on the counter or in the fridge for too long.
For more information, you can contact Darin Engh at Engh Gardens in Sandy or
online at www.enghgardens.com.