October is National Spinach Month!
Popeye the Sailor Man claimed “I’m strong to the “finich,” ’cause I eats me spinach.” But many people simply do not like the taste or texture of the leafy green. I understand – – but luckily, there are a number of other tasty greens to grow this month! Best of all, there is no back-breaking gardening! All of these can be grown in large pots on the patio, as mentioned in our previous post – here.
Greens in the Southwest
Garden greens in our area need the cooler soils of autumn to grow their best. Seeds need cool soil to germinate and then the plants need the short days of fall, winter, and early spring to stay vegetative―producing leaves but not flowers. Once the weather heats up, these greens will become bitter and begin to flower.
Leafy greens need a rich, well-drained soil, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Add ample compost or aged manure to the soil before planting for healthy growth. Containers full of potting soil are just fine. Plants will need full sun for six hours a day. Keep the soil evenly moist for best flavor. The featured photo for this post is an example of how pretty a head of lettuce can be!
Here are some of the greens you can grow, including some varieties that do well in the Southwest.
European spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is just fine to plant in Fall. Don’t grow the New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) – it’s a warm season green.
Orach (Atriplex hortensis): Also called wild spinach, I prefer it over European spinach as it has a sweeter flavor and no gritty feel.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa): Eaten raw or cooked, adds a tangy lemony flavor to food.
Mizuna (Brassica rapa var. japonica): with a mild mustard flavor; this is good in salads or cooked.
Mustard (Brassica juncea): Southwest’s own ‘Mostaza Roja’ is mild enough for salads or used as a cooked green. Avoid any variety with “giant” in the name; they do not do well here.
Tatsoi (Brassica rapa var. narinosa) with a mild mustard flavor; it is good in salads or cooked.
Mache (Valerianella locusta): also called corn salad or or lambs lettuce, once you grow this you will never eat lettuce again. It simply melts in your mouth.
Mesclun Mix: mixed seed that generally includes lettuce, orach, mache, and some of the mustards. Cut to harvest, generally within 3 weeks of sowing.
Microgreens: mixed seed that you cut and consume when they are still “micro,” a bare 3 to 4 inches tall.
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa): There are four types of lettuce: crisphead, butterhead, romaine, and looseleaf. Looseleaf and butterhead are most successful in our climate. ‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ and ‘Simpson Elite’ are two good green-leaf varieties. ‘Red Sails’ and ‘Lolla Rosa’ are red-leaf varieties that are easy to grow. Try ‘Buttercrunch’ if you want a heading lettuce.
Greens are most easily harvested using scissors to snip off leaves ½ to 1 inch above the soil line, or along the stem for taller greens. Usually, plants will grow additional leaves. If you can, harvest in the morning when the water content of the leaves is highest. Invest in a good salad spinner to wash your homegrown greens.
Don’t be shy about adding some pansies or calendula to your garden planters. Your garden will look pretty, plus these have edible flowers, as mentioned here. Have fun with your garden in our dry climate!
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures that I mention on my Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we will get a few pennies.
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