In the temperate maritime northwest climate, I harvest salad greens almost year-round from monthly plantings. But the first cutting of a new crop is always eagerly awaited. The flavor and texture of leaves from young plants being harvested for the first time just seem more special than later cuttings. There are several varieties of multi-colored lettuces, chards, kales, and mustards. Nutty, spicy arugula is an easy-to-grow must-have in my salads. Other fun greens to grow and toss with these staples are endive, dandelion, orach, radicchio, and cress. Next month when temperatures no longer drop below freezing, amaranth, purslane, and New Zealand spinach will be added to the mix. I grow the plants close together, just a couple inches apart in all directions, and harvest the leaves once or twice a week starting when they are a couple inches tall. When a new succession is ready for cutting, I thin the old plants and let them grow tall, feed them with compost or a fish-based fertilizer, then cut the leaves for cooking greens.
Cover Crops. Turn under cover crops a few weeks before planting to allow them to decompose. For small areas use the "Shovel Method." Slice below the green growth with a shovel and turn it over so that only dirt shows. Do not disturb for a couple weeks. If tilling, wait until the soil is dry and crumbly. Tilling wet soil destroys healthy soil structure and wet clay soil turns into rock.
Amend Your Soil. Add amendments to the soil based on recommendations from a soil test. Call your agricultural extension office, master gardeners program, or organic gardening center for reputable soil testing organizations.
Greens Galore. Start monthly successions of tasty and nutritious greens for salads and cooking all season long. Lettuces, kales, mizuna, mustards, and chards can be sown indoors under bright lights and planted outside when there are two true leaves. Curly cress and arugula prefer to be sown directly outside.
Transplant Tip. Sow or plant purchased transplants of broccoli and cabbage. Sow carrots, which do not like being transplanted. Try two or three varieties, each ripening 7-10 days apart, to extend the harvest for several weeks.
Happy Herbs. Plant herbs like parsley, oregano, and rosemary in a sunny spot close to the back door for easy access when cooking. Cilantro grows best from seed sown directly outside. Broadcast a little patience—it takes at least two weeks to germinate. Save room for basil, which cannot be planted until after the last frost date in mid-May.
Perennial Power. Divide and move hardy perennials to better or additional locations. Buy new ones and plant now even though some may not yet be blooming. They get established better when planted now because spring rain reduces the need for vigilant watering.
Pretty Pansies. Brighten a shady corner with low mounds of colorful pansies that will bloom until mid-summer.
Row Cover. Use permeable row covers to protect seedlings and transplants from frost. When the edges are buried completely to form a tight barrier, row covers also protect carrots, radishes, and mustard plants from the fly that gives birth to root maggots. These covers can keep out flea beetles, too, which chew tiny holes in bok choy, arugula, and mizuna leaves.
Fertilizer Tip. Fertilize June-bearing strawberries with a balanced organic fertilizer.
* Apply a slow-release organic lawn fertilizer for healthy grass all spring and summer. Sharpen the mower blade before the first mowing. For strong, thick grass, mow the grass high, 3-4 inches tall. Leave the clippings where they fall to add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.