Foodscaping with winter salad greens
With the holidays behind us, it’s time for me to get back to healthy eating. What better way to start then by foodscaping with winter salad greens?
January is a great month to plant leafy greens such as lettuce, swiss chard, radicchio, spinach, kale and bok choy, to name a few. For an even easier choice, plant a collection of healthy and tasty baby greens from a package of spring mix seeds. These leafy greens make a great border along an ornamental bed as they create a beautiful display with their array of colors, shapes and textures.
For example, leaf lettuce, one of the most popular of the salad greens, comes in a variety of leaf colors from light green to dark green and red. Leaves may be curly or smooth and range in shape and texture. Seeds can be easily scattered directly onto a rich, organic, moist and well-drained, soil. Lettuce plants are sun lovers, but in Southwest Florida, they appreciate afternoon shade and will stay sweeter and last longer into the spring with adequate shade. Thin plants to about 6 inches apart and mulch around the plants to limit weed growth. Harvest leaves from the outside-in as soon as they are large enough to eat. Reserve the center young leaves to continue growing for later use.
Watch for aphids which love the tender leaves. They can be found on the underside of the leaves but can be removed with a strong spray of water. Ladybugs are a natural predator and will find their way into your yard if you resist using systemic pesticides.
Swiss chard is another attractive border plant. It has broad deep green leaves with tall, colorful stalks ranging in color from gold to purple and red. One variety is known as rainbow chard for its assortment of colors.
Chard can be planted similarly to lettuce. Scatter seeds directly onto rich, organic, moist, well-drained, soil and thin from 6 to 12 inches apart. Some gardeners prefer to start seeds in seed pots and transplant them to the garden later. Again, harvest outer leaves and stalks first as both leaves and stalks are edible.
Snails and slugs enjoy tender chard leaves and ravaged my chard plants last season. There are several baiting methods for snails, or if you prefer, you can remove them by hand. One method is to lay a board down on the ground where snails will congregate underneath making finding and removing them easier. Chemical methods are also available for those who prefer a less hands-on method. I’ve decided to limit the snail’s access by planting my chard in containers on my lanai. I am having much better luck with this approach.
Remember, other choice leafy greens are radicchio, spinach, kale or bok choy. They are highly nutritious and easy to grow following the same methods as for lettuce and swiss chard. One of the joys of foodscaping with winter greens is the quick turnaround from planting to harvesting. You can taste the fruits of your labor from 40 to 70 days after planting. In the meantime, you can enjoy the lovely display along your garden borders.
Happy gardening and bon appetit!
Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com
Stephens, J. M. (1999). Vegetable gardening in Florida. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida.