The most familiar lettuces are those found in the produce aisle such as Iceberg and green or red leaf varieties. But there are hundreds of other greens, including mustard greens, spinach, endive, radicchio, beet greens, parsley, mache and cresses, each with its own delectable flavor and unique form.
Growing your own greens not only allows you to try new and exciting varieties, but is a real cost saver, too. For the price of one packet of seed you can have delicious salads for several weeks. And if you plant the seeds early in cold frames, you'll have homegrown greens long before most plants in the garden even emerge. In fact, they grow best in the cool, rainy days of early spring and late fall.
Some gardeners grow each variety of salad greens separately in rows or containers, while others combine 4 to 5 different kinds to create mesclun, a seasonal mixture of greens grown and harvested together. You can easily make your own mix with a variety of leaf lettuces and other greens, or you can purchase pre-mixed seed packages.
To get a continuous supply of delicious greens through spring and early summer, sow a handful of seeds every 10 days or so. Because lettuce languishes in the heat, make the final planting 2 months before the maximum daytime temperatures average 80 degrees. Bon appetite!
Here is a list of my favorite salad greens.
One of my all time-favorites, this is a large, heat resistant butterhead type lettuce. The compact heads have thick, juicy, crisp green leaves tinged in red, with a yellow-white heart. So tasty all it needs is a little dressing.
This loose leaf lettuce is ready to eat in no time. Its red and light green rumpled leaves make a colorful addition to any salad. More heat resistant than other varieties gives it a long standing quality.
28 to 60 days
A unique looking lettuce, the bright green leaves are speckled with red. Harvest the tasty, young heads in 28 days for gourmet salads, or full size heads in 55 days.
Red Eruption Bibb Romaine
Add bursts of color to your garden and plate with this intensely red colored mini bib-romaine lettuce, suited to baby leaf and mesclun production. Glossy, savory leaves are crisp and mild tasting.
Salad Bowl Green Oakleaf
An old-time favorite leaf lettuce that dates from the 1880's. The thin, light green, oak leaf shaped leaves form tight rosettes. Heat-resistant, these plants last for weeks after numerous cuttings.
Deer Tongue Green Bibb
This looseleaf lettuce variety has been a favorite for years because of its heavy production and dependability. The green, triangular leaves grow on thick, solid plants and have a pleasantly sharp flavor.
Known as the king of gourmet salad greens, arugula's dark green, lobed leaves have a sharp, 'peppery' taste and form an open head. For best taste, harvest the leaves when they are 2-3 inches long. Very easy to grow!
45 to 55 days
While not a true spinach, this climbing plant is ideal for containers and small gardens because it takes little space. Sometimes used for its ornamental qualities, it produces large dark green leaves and vines. Young leaves and tips are great for stir-fry cooking. Pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water before planting shortens the germination time.
Red Giant Mustard Greens
21 to 45 days
This striking plant has a bright look and bold flavor. Zesty lime-green leaves are overlaid with bright purple to go along with its delightful sweet, but spicy flavor. Baby greens are ready in just 21 days for salad mixes or 45 days as a cooked green.
Bright Lights Swiss Chard
50 to 62 days
A dazzling plant in the garden with pink, red, bright gold, pale orange, white and mauve stems holding green to bronze-green leaves. Both the stalks and leaves can be used. You can prepare the stalks like celery or asparagus. The leaves can be used raw for baby green harvest or cooked with garlic or nutmeg and butter to enhance the chard's flavor.