Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Spring Greens for the Garden


 Spring Greens

This is a fun group of greens to grow that adds variety and spice to the normal greens.  It includes the spicy frilly mustard greens, flat leafed tatsoi, pac choi and the tight heads of Chinese cabbage.  All are grown best in early spring and replanted in Aug/Sept for fall harvests.  Summer heat triggers bolting so plant in early spring or late summer for a fall crop. Greens are fast and easy to grow if planted in the right season.  They are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.  They can be used in soups, lightly steamed, raw, mixed in salads, stir-fries or dried and powdered for capsules or smoothies.

Oriental Greens

This category includes mustards, Chinese cabbage, and Pac Choi.  I love all these because they are quick growing, disease and pest free, and make delicious additions to stir-fries.


Culture of Greens

  • Direct seed in early spring when soil temperatures are between 40-75 degrees Chinese Cabbage and pac choi can be started indoors
  • Even moisture ensures quick growth
  • Soil should be enriched with organic matter and a dry organic fertilizer
  • I plant these greens under a low tunnel in early spring and then again in early fall.  The low tunnel allows you to plant and harvest earlier in the spring and harvest into the fall.
  • Be sure to plant directly in the garden around St. Patrick's Day and then again in the fall.


Mustards tolerate heat better than most greens and hold better in the garden.  They also tolerate light frosts.

Ruby Streaks and Golden streaks are beautiful with serrated, frilly leaves that add a little zing to a salad or can be used in stir fries. They are also a beautiful ornamental green

Japanese Giant Red Mustard
If you like it bold this is your mustard.  It has large purple red leaves and a strong garlicy flavor. It is a good pickling variety.


Tah Tsai
Is a milder mustard that resembles spinach with spoon shaped leaves.

Agricultural mustards are used as cover crops and will be discussed in another post

Pac Choi

This is a favorite early green that we use in stir-fries.  We chop the leaves and stems.  It comes in green and purple and baby pac choi.  It's a beautiful crop, quick and easy to grow.  A beautiful plant.

Both green and purple Pac Choi


Try this green with Pac Choi in stir-fries.  It has a mild flavor and can also be used in salads. Plant after last frost to discourage bolting.  

Chinese Cabbage

This mild flavored cabbage can be used in stir-fries of slaw salads.  It is a quick growing cabbage that loves cool seasons.  When the outer leaves are peeled off it reveals a tight head.  I've had very good luck with Soloist. It can be started indoors and transplanted after danger of frost.  Frost sometimes encourage early bolting.

Gourmet Greens

These are spring greens that will tolerate light frosts and do very well under low tunnels for early spring planting.  For the best flavor daytime air temperature should be between 60-70 degrees.  Higher air temperatures make greens strong and bitter.  Harvest frequently when leaves are young and tender.


This is a popular salad green with a unique peppery flavor. A very healthy green with phytochemicals that fight cancer.

This is also a peppery green that is added to salads and sandwiches.  It's loaded with nutrients:  vitamin A, C, E, folates, iron, and calcium.

Corn Salad or Mache
This is a favorite salad green known by may names:  Vit, corn salad, and mache.  It's a great fall crop and if protected can be grown all winter.  It tolerates cold to 5 degrees but bolts quickly in heat so plant as soon as soil can be worked in the spring or in fall. You can harvest the enire plant or cut outer leaves like lettuce.

This is one of my favorites. It's a perrienal with a lemony tart taste.  It will tolerate shade. Add it to salads with spinach or to soups. Pinch off seed stocks as they develop.

This leafy vegetable is a super food.  It has the highest protein of any vegetable and is packed with vintamins, minerals, flavonoids and carotenoids.  This combo helps control cholesterol, protect eyesight and target free radicals.

Plant in early spring.  It doesn't germinate well in warm soils.  A fall crop can be easily overwintered under low tunnel.  Leaves are either savoy or smooth. My favorite salad green.

This is also a new favorite of mine.  Purslane is a domesticated weed that will self seed if allowed.  It's succulent leaves have a mild citric flavor.  It is wonderful in salads and on sandwiches.  This green has more omega-3 fatty acid than any other leafy vegetable. Chickens love this green also giving them omega-3's.


Swiss Chard

With beautiful stems in a rainbow of colors and large green leaves this is a stunning plant.  Although in the same family as beets, chard is grown for its leaves and stems.  It tolerates shade and is slow to bolt in the summer so you can continue to harvest leaves throughout the season. 

Chard can be sown April through mid-July when soil temperatures are 50 degrees. The outer leaves are harvested as needed.  

Orange Fantasia

Lipstick Pink



Soil Preparation for Greens

The key to successful organic gardening starts in the soil.  Organic fertilizers feed the microbes in the soil and in turn the microbes provide the nutrients for the plants. The first step is to add sufficient organic matter to the soil. Compost and aged manures need to be incorporated into the soil of newer beds and can be added to the top of established beds.  I add 1-2 inches of compost to each bed.  

A dry organic fertilizer should also be added to the soil and can be added to planting holes of transplants.  Since the soil is cool in early spring and microbe activity slow,  fish emulsion can be used after transplanting and if plants are struggling.   

Using Low Tunnels

Planting under the low tunnel protects transplants and allows you to plant directly in the soil at least two weeks early.  It offers protection from the unpredictable spring weather.  An additional layer of protection can be provided by laying a medium of light weight row cover over crops inside the tunnel.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Meet the "Cool Crops" of Spring!

Think greens for spring!  Some of the "super" foods of  nutrition are among the crops you can plant in early spring. To have a successful spring garden plan and prepare now.   These cool season crops have certain common characteristics.

A bed of peas, carrots, beets, cabbage, and broccoli.

Characteristics of Cool Season Crops:

  • Seeds from cool season crops germinate when soil temperatures are between 40-75 degrees.  
  • They tolerate light frosts
  •  A frost actually improves the flavor and sweetens up most greens.
  • The ideal temperature for vegetative growth is 60-65 degrees.  (Vegetative growth is green leaf growth)
  • Warm temperatures stimulate reproductive growth or the development of flowers and seed.  Chemicals that help in the development of flowers often produce a bitter taste in greens.
  • Many are biennials meaning they need two seasons to produce seed.
  • Not fond of warm temperatures and tend to bolt or get aphids in the summer

Cool Season Crops to Direct Seed in the Garden:

 Peas, Carrots, Beets, Onions, Radishes, Cilantro

Cool Season Crops to Transplant or Start Indoors:


 Lettuce, spinach,cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, celery, kale

All of these can be seeded directly into the garden or started indoors or put in as transplants.  If you start seeds indoors it needs to be 6-8 weeks before your average last frost date.

New Harmony's Last Frost Date
May 11th or Mother's Day

Use the link below to determine your average last frost date:

When To Plant:

Soil temperature is the determining factor for when to begin planting.  Most seed packets tell you the ideal soil temperature for germination.  With cool season crops that is between 40-75 degrees. To find soil temperature go outside in the afternoon and stick a regular thermometer a few inches in the ground.  Below is the schedule I use.  I'm in zone 5.  Springs are fairly fickle so have a way to protect your crops.

Valentine's Day:  Start seeds indoors Feb 1st thru Valentine's Day

Saint Patrick's Day: Direct seed peas

April Fool's Day:  Put transplants out.  I put them under a low tunnel or have a row cover on hand to protect from frosts.

April Fool's Day:  Direct seeds cool season crops 

April 15th Tax Day:  Plant potatoes
Chard and Kale in the Spring Garden.

Quick Guides for Planting Spring Crops

 Below are the most common spring crops.  I do another post on the less popular springs greens and root crops.