Fields of greens

By Tom Seymour | Jul 05, 2019
Photo by: Tom Seymour Swiss chard lasts into late fall.

Green leafy vegetables rank among the most healthful of garden plants. But unlike rock stars such as tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet corn, greens get few accolades. That’s too bad, because greens are easy to grow and typically have a short season, allowing for multiple crops throughout the year.

A client on one of my field trips once remarked that she had never met a green she didn’t like. That sentiment resonated with me, since I have a universal love for greens. And to that end, I like to plant many different types of greens each year. From lettuce to chard, Good King Henry to kale, greens have a prominent place in my garden scheme.

So let’s take a look at some different greens with a view toward determining how they can fit into your own garden scheme.

Chard

Once universally called, “Swiss chard,” the name is now shortened to simply “chard.” We may call chard the leafy green that keeps on giving, since cutting away the outer leaves in no way harms the plant. After a light harvest, the plant keeps on putting out new growth, right up to and even after fall frosts.

A beet relative, chard now comes in a variety of colors. But no matter if you plant ruby chard, rainbow mix or just plain, old green chard, it all tastes pretty much the same. However, some of the more colorful varieties have transcended the vegetable garden and now people use chard as specimen plants. A single plant, if properly fertilized and watered, will grow huge leaves, real eye-catchers.

Always delicious fresh, chard can also be canned and frozen. So if you have a taste for chard, by all means give it a try this year. It isn’t too late, either, so get planting.

Lettuce

Lettuce comes in a wondrous assortment of varieties, from loose-leaf lettuce to butterhead types and more. Of these, loose-leaf types have the shortest time to maturity. That means you can keep reseeding throughout the season.

Choosing loose-leaf types can be difficult, given the countless varieties available. Some people opt for pre-packaged mixes, while others plant specific varieties. Two old standards, Oakleaf and black-seeded Simpson, are reliable producers. All loose-leaf varieties have in common that don’t form heads, so they are harvested by cutting single leaves.

And then we have butterhead lettuce. These form loosely compacted heads. One mature head gives enough for several meals. Butterhead lettuce dates back many years. One variety, Tennis Ball, was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s at Monticello. I plant it, and it ranks among my favorites. Butterheads come in a wide variety of types, so surely there’s one out there for you.

Romaine/Cos lettuce varieties have thicker, fleshier leaves. “Freckles,” a spotted variety, rates as one of my favorites. These are more filling than other lettuce varieties and take longer to mature.

Lettuce dislikes the heat of the summer, which causes it to bolt and also, to lose some flavor. So pick lettuce early or late in the day. Also, try planting in a location with some afternoon shade. This tactic works well for me and should do the same for anyone.

Kale

Kale, a powerhouse of nutrition, is easily grown. However, cabbage butterflies, those white “moths” that hover around brassicas and cabbages, can ruin a crop. When these garden pests show up, rather than resorting to pesticide, many gardeners choose row cover, a gauzy fabric that allows light and water to penetrate, but prevents insects from entering.

Row covers are unsightly, but they are better than having a row of infested kale. So if you really enjoy kale, stand at the ready to cover your plants when those first few white butterflies begin dancing around your crops.

Kale comes in a variety of forms, from pebbled to frilly. Also, heirloom varieties abound. Some have 3-foot leaves, while others are seriously compact. All kale tastes better after a frost, making it a long-season plant.

Spinach

Perhaps the most widely known leafy green vegetable, spinach tastes great and is packed full of vitamins. A short-term vegetable, spinach tends to bolt shortly after maturity. New hybrid types resist bolting, making them a fine choice for any gardener.

Spinach can be planted in spring, when soil temperatures reach 45 degrees, and again in late summer for a fall harvest. Also, fall-sown spinach, if properly mulched, will persist through the winter, thus giving an early spring crop.

So plant some greens this year. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Good King Henry is a tasty green. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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