A Greens Garden

We’ve decided to have one of the new garden beds to be solely a greens bed. I haven’t had much luck with growing salad greens such as lettuces, spinach, and arugula. Salad greens are cool weather crops, which would explain why I’m having difficulty growing them since the weather is now in the 80s and 90s. When soil temperatures are below 50F or higher than 80F seed germination is hit or miss. As the seeds germinate, the optimal temperature for growth is around 60F. Now, this seems like it be be next to impossible to have these perfect temperature conditions.

Before going into the details of how to best grow greens, here are a couple of photographs of our beautiful new gardens! I filled them with extra soil, compost, and peatmoss we bought from Lowe’s.

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In order to have a long growing season of greens, we’ll need to plan a lot of variety of greens – maybe up to 10 different kinds! Just like most vegetables and fruits, there are cold and heat tolerant. So, you’ll want to start the year with those that can tolerate cooler weather and transition to wamer weather varieties. According to the first website I have listed below, some great cold tolerant varieties include Artic King, Winter Marvel, Winter Density, and Black-Seeded Simpson. A cold weather arugula is Astro. Warm weather varieties include Red Butterworth, Torenia, Larissa, and Rosalita. Some spinaches include Emu or Tyee. As you can see there is a huge variety of greens that can be grown throughout the season from leaf shape and type to color and taste.

Since we have had such luck at the Farmer’s Market with tomato plants I think the next time we go I’ll ask the different vendors which varieties of greens they prefer growing in our local area. To maintain a steady supply of greens, it is recommended to sow seeds every two weeks. This means that the seeds are constantly germinating, growing, and being harvested and the cycle is repeated with a new plant every two weeks. This should maintain greens growing on a constant basis. Seeds can be started when the weather is too cold or too warm outside for proper germination. If the weather cooperates and you can sow them in the ground, you can plant them anywhere there is available space and once true leaves are present they can be transplanted to the final garden.

Leafy greens do best in loamy soil with high organic matter. Before transplanting or sowing seeds, if that is where they will remain, be sure to mix in fresh compost several inches below the surface. Seedlings benefit from being watered right after transplantation with a weakened solution of seaweed/fish emulsion.

A major benefit to adding seaweed meal to the garden will add micronutrients, growth hormones, and vitamins. This will help to increase yields, reduce stress from drought, and increase frost tolerance. This can be applied directly to the soil or as a spray to the foilage. Fish by-products are great complete fertilizers with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. When mixed with water, the added fish emulsion will stimulate growth of seedlings. Seaweed and fish can be mixed together for added nutrition and stimulate growth.

Lettuce and greens are shallow-rooted and grow rapidly. Access to lots of water is key to having the greens produce tender leaves. We have soaker hoses that we can use to keep the water moist.

Creating an ideal “microclimate” is the primary way of having leafy greens all year round. Or at least for the majority of the year. The idea behind a microclimate is that the climate is different from the nearby climate. This can be just as close as several feet away. This creates a miniature environment whereby in addition to good soil, the air temperature will be ideal for growth.

When the air temperature is cold, as in the winter time, and hovers around 25 degrees at night, transplants should be covered with what is called a garden quilt. This is a heavy-duty fabric that will protect the seedlings down to 25 degrees and help with protecting from the wind. When the weather starts to warm, an all-purpose fabric will allow more light, but less protection from the cold.

When the weather reaches 80 degrees shade-netting is required. This knitted fabric cuts the sunlight in half and will cool the plants in addition to keeping the soil moist. The fabric is much too heavy to lay directly on top of the leaves, so a hoop is required. And, in fact, with our new gardens, we had a hoop system in mind!

Nate built hoops out of PVC pipes by cutting pieces that fit into the ground and then placed 10ft long pipes into each side. The hoops can stay in place throughout the season, but as the weather gets too hot we can add shaded netting or when it is too cold we can add fabric cloths.

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And last, but certainly not least is the harvesting of the greens. A clean cut should be made to remove leaves. If at least half an inch is left, the leaf will regrow. Spinach and arugula are the best to grow in the cold winter, and as long as they are covered with a garden quilt they will remain in a dormant stage until enough light is available. This is around March.

We have already filled one of the gardens with tomatos, peppers, and eggplants. The photos below show these plants growing well. We added soaker hoses placed underneath each of the plants. With these growing through the spring and summer season, I hope to get the fruits by the end of the summer and then switch to greens.

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