In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2000
Regional Report

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Winter greens can be eaten at this small size simply by thinning. The ones left behind will grow into larger heads for a later harvest.

Greens in the Garden

Cool-season greens sown in the fall are ready for picking now. And if you haven't planted them yet, there's still plenty of time to sow a crop and enjoy a long harvest season. Such a wonderful assortment of greens is available from seed that I have trouble choosing a few varieties for my limited space. Luckily, a friend with an organic market garden grows a host of greens, and I can taste-test whenever I want. (I'm a bit like an oversized grazing rabbit, bouncing from row to row, sampling the salad bar laid out before my eyes.) After harvesting, he combines six to eight greens in his own special mix and tosses in edible flowers, radishes, and carrots for added color and crunch.

What Greens to Sow

I suggest looseleaf lettuces for the low desert, as head lettuces just don't perform well here. Other than that, every green I've planted has thrived, including collard, mustard, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, and other Asian greens. I love tatsoi, which forms a lovely rosette shape of low-growing leaves that's almost too pretty to pick. The leaves are a deep green with slender white stalks and can be eaten raw in salads or stir-fried with other veggies.

Mesclun Mix

If you have the space, you can go wild planting many types of greens, but for smaller gardens a nice option is a mesclun mix. Such a mix usually includes four to eight different types of seeds in a variety of leaf colors, shapes, textures and flavor intensities within one seed packet.

Mesclun mixes come in different styles. Salad mixes may contain lettuces such as oak leaf or salad bowl; spicy mixes may add other greens such as arugula or radicchio to provide some zip. As the seedlings grow large enough to identify, thin them to the ratio that you want, such as more salad greens than spicy mustard. One year I didn't do that and ended up with an abundance of arugula, which I like but in moderation!

Succession Sowing and Fertilizing

We in the desert enjoy a long harvest period for greens, but to keep a steady supply of tender baby greens coming, sow seed every 2 to 3 weeks. Keep an eye on mature greens for signs of nitrogen deficiency, which will show up as yellowing leaves. Foliage plants require plenty of nitrogen to thrive, so if your garden beds are relatively new or the soil is not very fertile, add a nitrogen fertilizer. I like to scratch fish meal into the soil several inches from the plant to provide a nitrogen boost. Water well after fertilizing, and you will be rewarded with lush greens for your table.


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