Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring sowing of greens

Germination using straw mulch
Time remains to sow spring salad and greens crops in our March to April spring planting period. The nice thing with these crops is that they can be cut at any stage of growth with cut-and-come again harvesting. This means no waste from late sowings that can be harvested before they fade in June heat.

The seedlings in the photo were germinated under a layer of straw mulch. Straw is a useful organic mulch to use in spring before lawns green up and grass clippings become available.

Want to add some pizzazz to your salads? Red orach also called mountain spinach is worth trying. It's native to Europe and the Balkans. Adding red leaves with their mild spinach-like flavor to an otherwise green salad provides a nice complementary color contrast. Orach can be used for presentation purposes as a bed of red on a serving plate. It also can be cooked as a green in soups but red varieties lose their color.

Red Orach  Atriplex x hortensis
Several varieties are available from the magenta shown to purple and various shades of green. Red orach seed is widely available and easy to grow once soil temperatures reach 50 degrees F. Do not sow where spinach, beet or chard have been or will be grown in crop rotation

The best leaves to pick for salads come from the first 18 inches of plant growth made in 40 to 50 days. Orach is both alkaline soil and drought tolerant. It is slower to bolt than spinach but will bolt in summer.

Orach is an annual growing to 4 feet or taller and will self-sow readily if left to mature so be warned and harvest it young if you don't want it coming up all over your garden in future years. Seedlings from saved or naturally spread seed tend to have a lot of color variation.

Photo credit: Straw mulch for seed germination, Red Orach growing with drip irrigation - Both credit Carl Wilson

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