The bottomless bowl of salad I was recently served at a franchised fine-dining establishment consisted of hunks of iceberg lettuce, unpeeled slices of cucumber, wedges of tomatoes and bits of carrots and cabbage. Although there is no specific formula for a definitive salad, this industrial amelioration of plant husbandry was not nutritious nor attractive to my palate. One reason I avoid mass-merchandised food provisioners is not merely their bland monotony, but that I can do such a better job, economically and qualitatively, bestowing food to my family.
Even from a garden of limited space, a wide spectrum of salad greens can be reaped in a short period of time with minimal effort. A few landscape pots, filled with retail potting soil, planted with off-the-shelf seedlings will lead to a prestigious beginning for an alternative to cookie-cutter food. Taking the next step of procuring the wider selection of crops available from seed catalogs opens up the spectrum of opportunity to a unique salad experience. Further commitment to a “square-foot garden” or grow box set-up cements the fundamental human endeavor of growing our own food. Don’t stop now — we’ll make a farmer of you yet!
Many salad greens sprout very quickly, avoiding the neophyte gardener’s frustration of expecting quick results. Closely planted crops must eventually be thinned to an appropriate spacing in order to allow for healthy growth. The first harvest can be expedited by recognizing the ‘thinning greens’ as an early crop. Even little red radish tops are succulent and spicy when they are thinned to 3 inches between plants. Rinse them off and add their pink stems, tops and even roots to the salad.
Once they become familiar, Mizuna, Komatsuna, Hong Vit, Bekana, Waido and Bok Choi are just a few of the exotic plants that easily fit into our gardening routine. Red leaf mustard greens from the same plant family might be a little more familiar and obtainable. Any of these sprout in four days, reach thinning size in three weeks and can be profitably harvested in 40 days. Minimal fertilizer and pest controls, along with judicious watering, will keep these obscure provisions at the ready.
Love or hate are strong opinions regarding both arugula and cilantro, but taste is such a personal matter. Grown quickly in any garden format, these plants can be rapidly ingratiated to our diet. So even when the retail bagged lettuce mix, used for the umpteenth time this month, is looking less appealing, adding our own harvest to the blend promotes our enduring sustenance.