Planting greens

Larry G. Field
Thursday, May 2, 2019
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Greens serve three primary purposes, eaten raw as lettuce, cooked as Swiss chard, or to add flavor similar to herbs; some greens (cabbage) overlap these uses. I normally grow Swiss Chard as a cooking green and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce as a salad and sandwich green. A partial list of greens would include Chard, lettuce, beet, collard, kale, turnip, spinach, arugula and fennel. One may double crops by growing root crops with edible tops (beets).

All vegetables should receive full/direct sunlight, but if light is at a premium, non-root crop greens will probably do better in partial shade than most other veggies; I grow chard and others in spaces between fruit trees in my orchard.

I was once viewing the vegetable display at the Billings fair where a master gardener was seated answering questions. I had no question but I did stand to listen and learn. A lady asked “how far should chard be spaced? The answer was 3-4 inches. I reflexively blurted, “What?” My chard plants, even in the shaded orchard, mature to 36” plants with 6” bases. Space 3”? Don’t underestimate the size to which greens can mature. With large bunches of lettuce, my wife & I work together to place one into a grocery bag, one of us compressing the bunch while the other forces a grocery bag over it. If I planted based on the above advice, I would thin and use the plants providing more space for those remaining.

I plant chard 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, if in a row I would space a minimum of two feet. One plant will feed a family but I never plant just one of anything, if it dies or is killed, none will remain.

I plant lettuce in a zigzag manner with 12-14” spacing, seed lightly covered. I stagger my planting. I place 3 seeds in one spot, wait for sprouting, thin to one and then plant the next location with 3 seeds. I continue to let the last planting germinate prior to planting the next. I plant six plants. When the first is harvested, I replant the spot with a seventh plant, and so on. This technique minimizes the space required for a lettuce crop and keeps quality fresh lettuce available all season.

Most greens can be planted very early. If you have never eaten home grown beets, try them as a combination greens & roots crop. That stuff that comes from the stores in a can labeled “beets” cannot possibly be. Home grown beets, steamed, are great, just add salt, pepper and butter to taste.

When harvesting bunch lettuce, I fill a 5-gallon bucket with water, invert the bunch into the bucket slowly submerging it so as to not break the leaves, hold the base and gently pulsate the bunch under the water. I then remove it, still upside down, and pulsate again, shaking out the water and possible insects while minimizing damage to the head. At that point it is too wet to store. Set it upside down on a towel to drain for about 30 minutes, avoiding wilting. When serving, check thoroughly for insects.

I harvest chard by breaking off leaves near the base. Remove insects and wash. Use a fillet knife to slice down both sides of the center stem. The edible center stems can be chunked for use as a cooked veggie or pickled; but I don’t consider them useable. The green leaves make a good cooked green.

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