Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Winter Salad Bowl (page 3 of 4)

by Jack Ruttle

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lettuce (<i>Lactuca sativa</i>)

In Coleman's climate, lettuce is a fall salad staple and is not reliable for winter harvest. Quality declines rapidly when leaves begin to freeze and thaw. Coleman's lettuce is finished the second week in December, even with the double protection of cold frames and tunnels. In milder climates, lettuce can star in salads all winter.

For fall harvests, any lettuce works well, but butterhead types best withstand extreme cold. Sow in containers every two weeks from early August to mid-September. Transplant to outdoor beds or frames when plants are two inches tall. Harvest from October through November.

Late in September, Coleman sows lettuce that will winter over in the frames as small plants and become the first lettuce crop in spring. He transplants when the plants reach about two inches across, at a six- by six-inch spacing.

Mache (Valerianella locusta)

Also known as field salad or corn salad, mache is the only plant that actually keeps growing all winter, and it is Coleman's midwinter salad staple. Even -20&deg F won't hurt it. Harvest whenever frames warm enough to thaw leaves.

Mache has bright green, thumbnail-sized leaves that grow in a rosette that reaches three inches across at harvestable size. The texture is buttery and soft, the flavor mild. Cut the plants just above soil level, leaving roots in the ground. Whole rosettes go into salad; one plant makes a forkful.

Mache won't germinate in warm soil. Coleman plants in frames in early September, sowing the seed into shallow drills about four inches apart and covering the seed lightly. Make seed rows an inch or two apart. You don't want to have to thin m'che, he says: Pulling it by the roots will scatter soil on nearby leaves. Whenever space appears in the frames, Coleman advises scattering more seed. He sows seed through the middle of December, so there's always more maturing somewhere. M'che planted outdoors is allowed to grow on through the winter for harvest the following spring.

Mizuna (Brassica rapa)

Mizuna (<i>Brassica rapa</i>)

Even though mizuna is related to Chinese cabbage, it looks more like a very frilly form of endive. The plants have many slender leaves arranged in a thick, flattish head. The leaves are long and thin, and very finely cut. Another form has leaves that are spoon-shaped at the tips, not frilly. The flavor, however, is much milder than other Chinese cabbages or endive. Mizuna is a superb winter salad vegetable.

Coleman sows it in the late summer and early autumn, then harvests whole plants like young endive, at the thinning size -- three to four inches tall. When the plants are about six inches apart, he begins harvesting the outer leaves. Autumn plantings will yield through winter. If mizuna seed is scattered in empty spots in the frames in late January, thinnings will be ready for salads late in February.

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