Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Summer Greens

by Charlie Nardozzi

Summertime is upon us and all our favorite heat-loving vegetables are pouring in from the garden. Tomatoes, peppers, squashes, cucumbers, sweet corn, and melons are maturing during these long, hot days. But if you're a salad lover you may be pining for the cooler days of spring and fall. Don't despair; in spite of the heat there are greens you can grow for summer salads.

All it takes is selecting the right greens to grow and altering your growing techniques to account for the heat, bugs, and potential lack of rain. Here are some greens to try to keep you in salads all summer long.

Swiss Chard and Mustard

While traditional greens, such as spinach, may not thrive in the summer heat, mustard and Swiss chard can tolerant the high temperatures. Here are some good varieties to try:

'Florida Broadleaf' mustard - Light green leaves have a distinct white midrib. The leaves are ready to pick 45 days after seeding.

'Tendergreen' mustard - Oblong, thick leaves have a spinach-like flavor and are particularly suited to growing in the humid Southeast.

'Golden Sunrise' Swiss chard - The leaves feature golden veins and midrib on wavy, medium green leaves. It matures 55 days from seeding.

'Ruby Red' Swiss chard - Red veins and stems contrast well with the dark green leaves. 'Ruby Red' is particularly attractive when grown with 'Golden Sunrise' Swiss chard.

Summer Lettuce

While most gardeners think of lettuce as a cool-season crop, there are some varieties that can stand the heat. They may not grow as large and succulent as they would during cooler times of the year, but they will produce a meal for you. Grow the looseleaf varieties instead of the head or romaine types. They can be harvested when young and are less likely to struggle during periods of intense heat.

Here are a few to try:

'Ruby Red' lettuce - This compact, slow-to-bolt, red-leafed variety doesn't fade its color during the heat.

'Sierra' lettuce - Tall, open heads of green leaves tinged in red resist bolting and becoming bitter even during periods of hot weather.

'Sangria' lettuce - A red butterhead that forms loose heads with smooth leaves even in the heat.

Exotic Greens

Beside the mustards, chards, and lettuces, there are many other greens that grow well in the heat. Here are some spinach substitutes, greens mixes, and even an old-time, cool-season green to try this summer.

Mesclun mix - There are many versions of this mix of greens. Usually they contain a combination of lettuces, chard, arugula, and kale. Some spicier mixes may contain mustard and Oriental greens. They grow even in the summer heat because you harvest the greens when they are still young.

Malabar spinach - A warm weather spinach substitute, malabar spinach grows on a vine and needs to be trellised. The vines produces spinach-like greens that thrive in the heat.

New Zealand spinach - New Zealand spinach produces bushy plants with tender young leaves that can be used as you would spinach. It grows slowly but thrives in hot, dry conditions.

'Red Russian' kale - While kale is sweetest tasting when allowed to mature during cool temperatures, it still can grow in the heat of summer. You can either harvest the young leaves and mix them in a salad, or wait until fall to harvest the sweet, larger leaves after a frost. 'Red Russian' features flat, green leaves with attractive red veins.

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