Is a bowl of iceberg lettuce slathered in dressing the salad you’re used to eating, even though you think it’s boring? Have you ever wondered what was in that spring mix or mesclun mix you were served in a restaurant or bought bagged at the grocery? Do you think your garden greens are limited to lettuce, and that other greens are somehow exotic?
You, too, can grow a wide range of salad greens and salad enhancements. It’s no harder than growing lettuce, and in many cases, a lot easier. Creating a salad that’s bursting with flavor and color is an art, but since most salad greens and enhancements go well together, it’s hard to go wrong. And fortunately, most seed companies now carry a wide range of mixes and individual species and cultivars that take the guesswork out of growing salad greens.
If you want to go beyond lettuce, try these delicious greens in your salads. You can eat some of them—spinach, arugula, and bok choy, for example—on their own, or mix them with lettuces and other greens like radicchio and mustard greens to give your salads spice and depth. Mesclun can also be the base of a salad or be mixed in with other greens. And don’t forget red, green, and Savoy cabbage, which are excellent as accents in tossed salads or in starring roles in cole slaw.
Arugula (Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa): Also called rocket and roquette. Rich, peppery flavor. Sow seed in early spring or fall, thinning seedlings to space plants 4 to 6 inches apart with 10 inches between rows. Use thinnings in salads, and start harvesting mature greens in 6 to 8 weeks. Tends to bolt quickly in hot, dry weather.
Bak choy (Brassica rapa): Also called bok choi and pak choi. Attractive cabbage relatives with long, thick white stems and dark green leaves. Young bok choy is delicious in salads and makes a succulent cole slaw. Sow seed in early spring or fall; grow like cabbage. Plants prefer cool growing conditions. (‘Canton Bok’ is a more heat-tolerant cultivar.) Space plants 8 to 12 inches apart in the row and 12 inches between rows. Harvest entire small heads or larger individual leaves.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus): A relative of endive and escarole, chicory (also called witloof chicory or Belgian endive) is delicious as a winter salad green when forced indoors. See the Endive entry for details on growing and forcing chicory.
For more information about growing an organic garden, buy Rodale's Ultimate Encylcopedia of Organic Gardening.