Growing Edible Greens

This article discuses types of lettuce and other greens, such as kale and chard, that should be planted in early spring. Early spring is the perfect time to get outside and start your first plantings of salad greens. The earlier in spring you plant, the better.

Lettuce is a cool weather crop that thrives when the average daily temperatures are between 60-70°F. You can plant again in the late summer for a second harvest. Once the days become hotter, lettuce growth will slow down, the leaves will taste bitter, and the plant will produce an elongated seed stalk. When you see this happen your lettuce has “bolted.” It is time to pull out your plants, compost them and mark your calendar to plant seeds again later in the season.

Types of Lettuce

Lettuce can be placed into two categories: leaf lettuce and head lettuce.

Leaf lettuce has many different varieties. The colors range from green, green with red edges or red spots and pure red varieties. Leaf lettuces also have many different textures and some are even ruffled. You can purchase individual varieties or better yet try a seed packet of gourmet mixes. Your end result being a dramatic looking salad packed with wonderful colors, textures, and flavors.

Head lettuces include the popular varieties such as iceberg, romaine and butter crunch. Iceberg has the least nutritional value. Romaine forms an upright elongated head that is very good in salads and sandwiches. Butter crunch has a looser more delicate type head and has a sweeter flavor. Buttercrunch is perfect to use in salads, sandwiches, and can be used as a wrap. Look on the internet for Thai Lettuce Wrap recipes for a tasty low carb alternative to a traditional wrap.

Planting Lettuce

Directly sow leaf lettuce seeds by gently tapping the seed packet to sprinkle seeds about 20 seeds per square foot, lightly cover with 1/8-1/4 inch of soil and firm gently. Be sure to sprinkle with water to ensure germination. The seed coat must be moist for germination to occur. Do not overwater, or the seed will rot.

Plant head lettuce seeds further apart, ten seeds per square foot. Once the seeds have germinated, thin leaf lettuce by snipping or pinching the leaves at the bottom of the plant and use these tender baby greens for gourmet salads. New leaves will continue to grow. Ideal spacing for leaf lettuce in a square foot is about six plants. Thin every other plant (eating the baby leaves) until you have six plants remaining in one square foot. Head lettuce needs more room. Ideally thin plants until you have four heads per square foot. Harvest the heads by cutting off at the rootstalk when they are the size you like. By staggering your plantings every two weeks you can have a continuous harvest of lettuce as long as the temperature remains below 80 to 85ºF. Try prolonging your growing season by using shade cover fabric clipped over a hoop to cool the soil and air temp around the lettuce plants. These items can be purchased at any good garden center or online.

Other Greens to Consider

Be sure to plant other leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, arugula, and beet greens. All these plants are delicious and packed with nutrition when harvested young. Chard and kale plants will continue to grow all summer and into the fall. The larger leaves can be used in stir-fry recipes and soups. Both plants can withstand a mild frost. Some people think the taste improves after kale has been touched with a frost. Kale leaves can be stripped off from its stalk, then rolled and thinly sliced to make ribbons for salads. Massaging the leaves makes kale more tender.

– Harriett Perez, Master Gardener Emertitus, Montour County

This educational blog is a series of informative articles from the Penn State Master Gardeners volunteers plus news concerning the group and their activities. For more information, click here.