Published on 09/18/03

Plant your own gourmet salad greens this fall

By Wayne McLaurin
University of Georgia

You can easily grow your own gourmet greens for a fraction of the cost of those expensive salad mixes in the stores.

Most salad greens are cool-weather crops. Start sowing salad green seeds in September and continue through late October, according to where you garden in Georgia.

If you're a salad lover, plant about 5 feet of row of salad greens per week, in successive plantings through the fall, in addition to your regular lettuce plantings.

Seeds of salad greens are sold as mixtures (as "mesclun") or separately as varieties. The mixtures may contain any combination of lettuces, chicories, dandelion greens, cresses, arugulas, chervil, endive, fennel, parsley, oriental greens, mustards, purslane, orach and mache (corn salad).

Tangy, mild, bitter

Some of these greens are tangy. Others are mild or bitter. When these flavors, colors and textures are combined with a zesty dressing, the salad is no longer a mundane experience -- it's a nutritious eating adventure.

Arugula, also called rocket or roquette, is a hardy member of the mustard family. With a toasty, pungent flavor, arugula is a favorite for this mix.

Resembling dandelion greens, arugula is rich in beta carotene and higher in vitamin C than almost any other salad green. It's considered an aphrodisiac by some eastern Mediterranean people.

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 wonderful 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 shallow

Plant salad green seeds a quarter-inch deep in rows 4 to 6 inches apart.

Harvest the greens when young, with scissors. Cut the young leaves about a half-inch above the soil line and the leaves may regrow for a second harvest. Or cut the greens at ground level for a single harvest.

Seed companies that offer a variety of gourmet salad-green seeds for home gardeners include:

  • Johnny's Selected Seeds, Foss Hill Road, Albion, ME 04910-9731.
  • Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Highway, Albany, OR 97321-4598.
  • Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 30 Irene St., Torrington, CT 06790.
  • Territorial Seed Company, P.O. Box 157, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.
  • The Cook's Garden, P.O. Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148 (catalog $1).
(Wayne McLaurin is a professor of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.