Growing bowls of tender greens

Mesclun: Start gathering the seeds for spring salad treats.

March 11, 2001|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,SPECIAL TO SUN STAFF

I can't help it. Every time I get into a seed catalog like Johnny's Selected Seeds, with all its beautiful color pictures of dozens of different lettuces, my mouth just starts to water. My hands start to itch for those packets of seeds, to caress those crisp and fragile young leaves. Not just one or two varieties, but a whole armful of luscious different kinds is what I crave.

Admittedly, some of this comes from having managed an organic farm for several years, where we did, indeed, have 20 or 30 varieties of lettuce and other baby salad greens stretched out in row after lovely row for acres. It made your head spin, the aura of all these happy, healthy little plants, as you walked down the aisles, each as pretty as a picture and bursting with life.

Even at home now, I reserve a space in my garden for a mesclun patch of as many assorted greens and lettuces as I can afford. Leftover seeds from previous years come in handy here. The idea is to get a colorful mix with a tangy little bite in it. Also look for similarity in days to maturity and a growing habit that will enable you to harvest the outer leaves over a long period.

The seeds I have for this are mostly left from 1999 and 2000. Kept in a cool place, the seeds' germination rate is usually still fairly high, though not 100 percent, and I sow them a bit more thickly with this in mind.

If you are very ambitious, you can start the seeds indoors in mid-March, to be set out in April under a lightweight floating row cover. Sometimes I do this just for the pure enjoyment of watching the little plants emerge from the soil right under my nose.

For this method, seed them in rows in an undivided planting flat. When the seedlings have two leaves and are ready to transplant into individual cells or small pots, you can pick a selection of colors and types that suit you. These can then be grown indoors under lights to be hardened off and then planted out in the garden in mid to late April.

For direct seeding, you can either sow in rows or broadcast the seeds lightly into a well-prepared and fertilized garden bed in early April. Keep them well watered but not wet. A floating row cover on supports will hasten germination, protect the young plants from extremes of weather, and help keep hard rains from dislodging the seeds.

Thin plants when they are a couple of inches tall, or set out transplants six inches apart for best growth and production (use thinnings for salads).

In about four weeks, you should be harvesting your own beautiful, fresh and tender gourmet salads.

Varieties for your backyard salad bar

Looseleaf`Black Seeded Simpson'`Redina'`Red Sails'`New Red Fire'`Lollo Rosa'`Saladbowl'`Royal Oak Leaf'`Tango'

Butterhead`Carmona'`Mervielle de Quatre Saisons'

Greens

arugula

baby bok choi

baby tatsoi

baby hon tsai tai

baby kale

baby mustard greens`Neos' endive`Catalogna' Italian dandelion

peppergrass/curly cress

baby spinach

mizuma (Japanese green)

SOURCES

Johnny's Selected Seeds

Foss Hill Road

Albion, Maine 04910

207-437-4301

www.johnnyseeds.com

Harris Seeds

355 Paul Road

P.O. Box 24966

Rochester, N.Y. 14624-0966

800-514-4441

www.harrisseeds.com

Burpee

300 Park Ave.

Warminster, Pa. 18974

800-888-1447

www.burpee.com

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