Many gardeners are now enjoying the rewards of early spring planting. Lettuce, beet tops, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip tops are just a few of the leafy greens being eaten right now. Many greens grow best in cool weather and mature in a relatively short amount of time. Most greens can be planted just as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring or in August for a fall crop. Successive plantings are also recommended to extend the harvest season.
Harvest the outer leaves of leaf lettuce as soon as they enlarge to 4 to 6 inches. The leaves on the inside will continue to develop. Crisp-head lettuce takes longer to mature and is harvested when the head is full size and moderately firm.
Beets and turnips serve a dual purpose. Tops can be used during the thinning process while the remainder of the plants are left to develop into a root crop for later enjoyment. If only the tops are desired, seeds can be scattered in a corner of the flowerbed or garden and used as soon as they are 4 to 6 inches tall. The tops of these vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, and calcium.
Mustard greens mature quickly and are best planted in early spring or fall. Warm, long days will cause the plant to go to seed. Harvest before the leaves are fully grown for best flavor. Spinach will also go to seed quickly during long days. Plants are best grown in early spring or late summer for a fall crop. Harvest as soon as leaves are 6 to 8 inches long and allow the center of the plant to continue producing.
Greens that like warm temperatures include New Zealand spinach, swiss chard, collards and kale. Harvest New Zealand spinach as succulent leaves and young stem tips. Swiss chard is harvested by removing the large, outer leaves as they reach 8 to 10 inches long. The center of the plant continues to produce for an extended harvest. Collards will tolerate both heat and cold. Harvest the young tender leaves and the central plant will continue producing. Kale is harvested similarly to collards. The flavor of both collards and kale is improved by frost. Plant by August 1 for a fall crop.
Most greens can be stored for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. After washing, place the produce in perforated plastic bags to maintain humidity.
This article originally appeared in the June 3, 1992 issue, pp. 1992 issue, pp. 88-89.