CORVALLIS — If you sow seeds in August or early September, you can enjoy salad greens throughout the fall and even during the winter.
When you plant depends on the crop, according to Jim Myers, Oregon State University vegetable breeder.
Learn how to build your own raised-bed cloche in an OSU Extension illustrated publication, available online at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/EC/EC1627-E.pdf
"Chicory, endive, kale and head lettuce require a fairly long season and it's better to plant early- to mid-August," Myers said. "Other crops such as Asian greens, radish and arugula come on very quickly; a mid-September date works best.
"Keep in mind that as temperatures cool in the fall, growth slows down," he added. "A 30-day leaf lettuce planted in May becomes a 60-day crop when planted in the fall."
Salad lovers who like to eat fresh from the garden can plant salad greens successively every week beginning in the spring. Myers advises protecting greens, however, from late fall and winter downpours with a covering such as a cloche.
"Leafy greens tend to rot over the winter if left out in consistent moisture," Myers said. "If you live in a colder area of the state, a cold frame or cloche also can help lengthen the harvest season into winter.
"Seeds of salad greens are sold as mixtures such as 'mesclun' or separately as varieties," Myers said.
The mixtures may contain a combination of lettuces, chicories, dandelion greens, cresses, arugulas, chervil, endive, fennel, parsley, Asian greens, mustards, purslane, orach and mache (corn salad). Some are tangy, others mild or bitter.
"Lettuces are generally the most cold susceptible, and so during the winter, I focus on chicory and endive, arugula, kale and oriental greens," Myers said. "In general, leafy vegetables that have high levels of anthocyanins (dark red, blue or purple pigments) hold up well to both cold and moisture. Some of the really dark lettuces (Black Jack for example) do very well."
Arugula, also called rocket or roquette, is a hardy member of the mustard family. With a toasty, pungent flavor, arugula can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring and periodically thereafter. Resembling dandelion greens, arugula is rich in beta-carotene and higher in vitamin C than almost any other salad green, according to Myers. Some eastern Mediterranean people consider it an aphrodisiac.
Because arugula bolts quickly, it's best to plant in succession. "It also is one of the most attractive of the crucifers to flea beetles. During the summer months, a floating row cover can be used to keep them away from the plants," Myers advised.
Endive is in the same family as lettuce. With smooth, pale, elongated heads, endive has more flavor than many types of lettuce. Curly endive, sometimes called chicory, has curly edged green leaves. Escarole, another relative of chicory, has broad, wavy green leaves with a pleasant slightly bitter flavor.
Radicchio, or red chicory, adds red color and zesty, mildly bitter flavor to salads. It often grows in small heads. Mache, also called corn salad, has velvety leaves and a mild taste. Watercress has pungent sprigs that resemble parsley. Cresses have a peppery flavor, while mustards "bite" the tongue.
Plant salad green seeds 1/4-inch deep in rows four to six inches apart. Harvest the greens with scissors when leaves are about a 1/2;-inch above the soil line, and the leaves might provide a second harvest.
Or the greens can be cut at ground level for a single harvest.