The long-awaited Minnesota spring is finally here. It’s been a bit of a weather roller coaster as one wonders when it’s OK to start planting. If you’re itching to get your hands in the soil, then lettuce and salad greens are calling your name. They are a cool crop and can be direct seeded as soon as the soil can be worked. Lettuce and salad greens thrive and have their best flavor in the cool spring. Once it gets too warm and dry, they bolt — go to seed -- and become bitter. However, you can plant again in August for a fall harvest.
There are hundreds of varieties of lettuce and salad greens. You can create your own custom salad mix. Some are faster growing and can be harvested at three to four weeks. They can range from loose leaf, soft head, tall compact heads, to dense solid heads. All these varieties have different flavors, textures and colors. Colors ranging from pale to dark green and deep red. Some greens including mustard are spicy and savory. While others have a buttery texture and sweet flavor.
Have fun, be adventurous and grow different varieties each planting. You will be eating salads and topping sandwiches with new flavors while also giving your body some important vitamins and minerals.
Lettuce and salad greens can be planted in a container with drainage holes or in the ground. If planting in a container, be sure to use a soilless seed starting mix or a good potting soil mix. If direct seeding in the ground, a soil test is recommended. The best pH for lettuce and salad greens is between 6.0 and 6.8. Amend soil according to testing recommendations. You may use a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Loosen soil because clumping soil will reduce germination and growth. Plant seeds according to package directions for depth and spacing.
When seedlings are small, thin according to package directions.
Watering is important because salad greens have small shallow roots. An inch of rainfall per week is adequate. Be careful to prevent dry spells or the plants may develop tip burn or the browning of leaves when watering resumes.
Frequent, shallow cultivation will help to prevent weeds. Weeding and mulching will help the soil to retain moisture, the crop will not be vying for the soil nutrients and the leaves will stay cleaner for harvesting.
Now it gets really fun because it’s time to harvest and after harvesting — the enjoyment of eating.
Mornings are best for harvesting. You can harvest loose leaf varieties (single leaves) as soon as they reach a usable size. If you harvest some at the baby stage, then you will be able to continue harvesting as the plant grows. This allows for a continual crop for weeks. For head lettuce, cut it off just above the soil surface. Remember the flavor is best before the weather is hot and dry.
Wash leaves with water individually, in a strainer, or with a spin lettuce bowl. Let dry on a clean linen towel or paper towers. Store in a plastic bag or container with a lid in refrigerator.
Now, let’s start planting because the unique taste of each variety awaits.
To learn more about salad greens and where to get free seeds in Crow Wing County, visit https://crowwingenergized.org/healthy-foods/one-vegetable-one-community/