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Cool Season Greens For Planting in Autumn or Late Winter

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

Lettuces are one of my favorite things to grow in late autumn, winter, and spring. The cooler weather is perfect for growing the delicious greens.

Lettuces are one of my favorite things to grow in late autumn, winter, and spring. The cooler weather is perfect for growing the delicious greens.

There are far more cool-season crops than most of us realize, and they all love full sun. When I began planning my fall and winter garden a few years ago, I suddenly realized I didn't have enough space for everything I wanted to plant. So, I had some choices to make. Would it be cruciferous vegetables or a salad garden?

Well, of course, I wanted both. I settled on several types of lettuce, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Everything was beautiful. Then it wasn't. The cauliflower turned pink. More about that later. Just know I had to trash all of that cauliflower. In this article, I will share what I’ve learned about growing cool-season crops.

NOTE: This article was growing far too long, so the cruciferous vegetables will be discussed in a separate article.


First, The Makings Of A Good Salad

Although most people serve their salads before the main meal, some people serve it along with the meal, and some make a meal of a good salad. A really good salad is filling and refreshing if it is not weighted down with a heavy dressing. Bo and I prefer balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO).

We tend to make our salads more inviting by making them colorful and flavorful. We use red sails lettuce, baby romaine, arugula, along with some iceberg lettuce, all home grown, of course. We add to that red and yellow grape tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, jicama, and radicchio in season. All of these except the jicama and radicchio are also grown in our little kitchen garden. If anyone knows where I can get jicama seed, please let me know in the comments below or you can email me at the address on my profile page.

Because most people begin compiling a salad with various types of lettuce, I will start there.

NOTE: If you are on blood-thinners:

Be aware, if you or a family member is on blood thinners, you/they should either not eat leafy greens, or should consult your physician to adjust your meds to accommodate the intake of green leafy veggies.

Here's one of our scrumptious salads with all of these greens plus avocado.

Here's one of our scrumptious salads with all of these greens plus avocado.

This is the same salad with grilled chicken and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds on top.

This is the same salad with grilled chicken and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds on top.

Baby romaine lettuce growing in my garden

Baby romaine lettuce growing in my garden

Romaine

The outer leaves of romaine lettuce can be tough. We prefer to use only the tender new leaves from our homegrown romaine, or the pale green romaine hearts if buying it at the grocery store or farmers' markets.

Baby Red Sails lettuce in my garden

Baby Red Sails lettuce in my garden

Red Sails Lettuce

Red Sails is one of my favorite lettuces. It is crisp and delicious, and adds a punch of color to a salad. The seed for Red Sails is usually included in mesclun mix, often called "spring mix" or "spring greens".

Mesclun mix is so very easy to grow from seed, and makes great micro-greens. So, I always sow the seed of mesclun mix every year in late winter and mid-fall.

A lovely head of iceberg lettuce

A lovely head of iceberg lettuce

Iceberg Lettuce

Of course, there is the old stand-by, iceberg lettuce. Growing up, it was the only lettuce I knew existed. My, how my palate has matured after getting out into the world on my own.

I usually compost those large outer leaves of Iceberg, and use the next few layers of large leaves for sandwiches or as lettuce wraps or as "plates" for tuna salad and chicken salad. I prefer the tightly curled inner portion for salads. Bo likes it all, and doesn't seem to have a preference. To each his own, huh?

Are You Or A Family Member Taking Blood Thinners?

Be aware, if you or a family member is on blood thinners, you/they should either not eat leafy greens, or should consult your physician to adjust your meds to accommodate the intake of green leafy veggies.

-- Maria

Public Health Educator

Chopped radicchio is ready to add to a scrumptious salad.

Chopped radicchio is ready to add to a scrumptious salad.

Radicchio

Radicchio is one of our favorite components of a beautiful salad. Because of its lovely burgundy and white color, it is often confused with red cabbage. The taste, however, is quite different.

Radicchio can be planted as early as the soil can be worked. It grows best at temperatures of 60-65°F (15.5-18.3°C). Start your seed in very early spring (about 2 or 3 weeks before the last frost is expected. The plants should be about 12 inches apart. Plant the seeds in loose soil, and cover with about 1/4 inch of fine soil -- I like to cover them with seed-starter soil that I buy specifically for this purpose. Pat the soil gently to firm it a bit, then water, also gently.

For a fall crop, you can start seed in mid-summer. For those in the deep south of the USA, it's probably best to wait until September or October to start the seed, as it can easily be far warmer than 60-65°F even in those months.

For a continuous supply of fresh radicchio, stagger your sowing of seed by 2 or 3 weeks. Radicchio forms heads about the size of a softball or a baseball, and will mature in about 80 to 90 days. Your heads should keep for about a week or so if refrigerated.

I recently learned that radicchio requires a good supply of phosphorus and potassium, and will not form heads, and may bolt if there is too much nitrogen, so I will have to watch my organic fertilizer for its NPK balance. NPK represents the 3 numbers on bags of fertilizer. N = nitrogen, P = phosphorus, K = potassium. I plan to try my hand at growing some radicchio this fall, so I'm really happy I learned this valuable fertilizing information before planting time. It's already mid-July, and fall planting time will be here before we know it.

Arugula in my kitchen garden last season added a nutty, peppery taste to our salads.

Arugula in my kitchen garden last season added a nutty, peppery taste to our salads.

Arugula

Not everyone likes arugula. Some of it has a nutty flavor. More of it has a peppery taste, and can have quite a kick. I've noticed that the baby arugula has a milder taste, so I try to pick mine while it is still small. I have learned that in the UK, it is called “rocket”. I’m not sure why.

Last fall, in my stash of seeds, I found that I had 2 types of arugula seed. One said "wild arugula". The other said simply "arugula". Both of them had a bit of a kick which I prefer not to have, so I need to search for the type of seed that produces leaves with the nutty flavor I love.

Curly parsley planted among yellow and hot pink snapdragons for a beautiful winter flower bed.

Curly parsley planted among yellow and hot pink snapdragons for a beautiful winter flower bed.

Parsley

We don't put parsley in salads, but we occasionally do use it in roasted potatoes. Sometimes, we use dried basil instead.

There is flat parsley and curly parsley. When we lived in Florida, I had a huge problem keeping rabbits from eating not only my lettuces but also my flowers. I read that they have a preference for curly parsley, so I planted a lot of it in my flower beds and among my vegetable plants just as a treat for them. I'm not so sure they care whether it's curly or flat. They ate it all.

Curly Parsley

Curly parsley is attractive in the garden, whether it's an herb garden or a flower garden. It adds a beautiful dark green splash of color wherever it is planted.

Flat Parsley

Flat parsley is the one usually seen being used as a garnish on entrees in restaurants. Although most folks don't eat it, it is a great breath freshener after a spicy or garlic-laden meal. Maybe you'll try it sometime?

Flat parsley in my herb garden after a morning shower.

Flat parsley in my herb garden after a morning shower.

There Are More Types Of Delicious Greens

Of course, there are other types of greens that can go into a great salad. Among them are butter crunch lettuce, Boston lettuce, and endive. I especially enjoy baby endive. I'll have to try my hand at growing these, and let you know how they work out in my garden. Until then, happy gardening, and enjoy those salads!

© 2021 MariaMontgomery

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