Greens are just about the easiest crop to grow and prepare. Not only do the tasty leaves—which range in flavor from pungent to mild— almost raise themselves, but they’re also very economical. One packet of seeds can grow enough lettuce or kale to feed a family all year. The trick is to plant just a few seeds every couple of weeks for an almost continuous harvest. (Recipes below!)
1 six-pack lettuce starts
1 six-pack kale, chard, or mustard starts
1 six-pack spinach starts
packets of several different lettuce, kale, chard, mustard, and/or spinach seeds
large planting container, window box, or small garden plot
For a complete list of vegetables that can be grown in Western Washington and when/how to plant them, this chart is a great resource.
You can plant this garden in a window box, large pot, or directly in the garden. Whether in a container or garden, plants need good light, soil, adequate space, and water. Choose a location that is somewhat flat and receives a minimum of 8-10 hours of full sunlight each day. More is always better. In addition, make sure you have a good source of water nearby. Western Washington summers are often very dry throughout July & August. Your greens will appreciate a good watering at least once a week during the growing season and daily watering if in a container.
If you are starting a new, in-ground garden, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested first. Your local conservation district should be able to help you with that task. You can also use raised beds or large pots/barrels. Fill them with clean soil and/or compost for an instant garden.
Mix 3-4 inches of compost into a new garden to improve its overall soil biology and health. If you already have a garden area, be sure to add 1-2 inches of compost each year to maintain soil health.
To ensure adequate nutrition for your greens , add a complete organic fertilizer (available at most garden and nursery centers) to the area to be planted and mix in well before planting. Be sure to follow directions for the product you are using; generally 1-2 cups per 10 square feet and broadcast across the area.
If growing in-ground, space kale about 24 inches apart; lettuce 10-12 inches apart, and spinach 6-8 inches apart. When planting in containers, you can reduce that space by half or more.
Plant to bury kale stems to first set of good leaves. Be sure to bury the entire root ball of your lettuce, about 1/2 inch deeper than the pots they were in. Spinach has a crown in the center of the plant, where the new leaves come from. Plant to make sure crown is the soil level.
When seeding greens, you can make the most of your space if you lightly scatter seed across the area instead of planting them in a straight line. Lightly cover the seed and water frequently till they come up. Be sure to thin as they come up (use the thinnings in salads!) to the spacing noted above in-ground, closer when in containers.
Weed, water, and nurture your plants through the summer. Make certain that your greens are always well watered. Otherwise, they might expend all their energy trying to go to seed. Check out this fact sheet on basil. For more information on caring for vegetable gardens, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington is a great resource. Also check out these publications from WSU on vegetable gardening.
Harvest leaves off your plants (from the bottom up) at least every week, more frequently is better. This will keep the plants busy producing new tender leaves instead of maturing tough old “chewy” ones. If you are growing a lettuce that forms a head, wait until it reaches the size you like then cut the whole plant off at the soil line and replace with a new plant for a continuous harvest.
Picking Fruits and Vegetables provides specifics to look for to harvest each vegetable for best flavor and nutrition.
Eat your greens has never been more fun than with these tasty recipes!
Spinach or Kale with Peanut Sauce
1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter,
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic chopped
1 bunch spinach or kale leaves, washed and stemmed (approx 1 lb)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
In skillet or wok at medium heat combine peanut butter, soy sauce, and garlic over med-high heat. Add spinach or kale, sprinkle with lemon juice. Then stir until wilted, about 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately. Note: don’t combine spinach and kale in this dish, they cook at very different rates.
Portuguese Kale Soup
1/2 lb linguica or chorizo sausage, sliced
8 cups chicken broth
3-4 medium potatoes (1 lb) peeled and diced
12 oz kale, stems removed, leaves chopped roughly (8 cups lightly packed)
salt and pepper
Combine sausage and stock in a large pot, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while preparing the potatoes. In another saucepan, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Boil till tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and lightly mash for a lumpy texture. Stir into the broth and sausage mixture along with the kale. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until kale is quite tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.