Monday, April 11, 2011

Salad Starters

This planter isn't just an attractive addition to the patio. The plants are ready to be picked and tossed into the salad bowl, making it the perfect gift. If the planter doesn't have drainage holes, place 1 1/2 to 2 inches of mini pine-bark chips in bottom; fill with soilless potting mix. Overplant with seedlings of seasonal crops; this one has kale, spinach, and a mesclun mix, as well as cilantro and chervil, which everyone likes in salads. It should be kept outdoors in a sunny spot, watered when dry, and fed with plant food according to minimum recommendations on package. Pick leaves gradually; in four to six weeks, the supply will be depleted, but the planter can be refilled. Instead of bringing garden vegetables indoors to clean, rinse them outdoors as soon as you pick them -- and give the remaining crop an extra drink, too. In late June, for instance, when it's time for the first harvest of crops sowed in early May, take along a colander and a garden hose. Some baby lettuces and radishes might be ripe for picking, but other lettuces and root vegetables won't be. With the benefit of the additional water, the veggies that need to stick it out through the summer have a smaller chance of wilting, bolting, getting bitter or hard, or cracking.

'Black Seeded Simpson' Loose-Leaf Lettuce

Every new gardener wants a thriving harvest. These easy-to-grow varieties, whose flavors range from hot to sweet, are a wise choice for a successful first-time garden. 'Black Seeded Simpson' loose-leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an heirloom that matures early in the season with a tender texture and delicate flavor. A loose-leaf variety, it has ruffled, lime-green leaves. This heirloom lettuce, popular for its silky texture and very delicate taste, is best in spring but will provide good harvests into summer. Of the four basic lettuce types, loose-leaf is the quickest growing and best for cut-and-come-again harvesting.

Did You Know?
Lettuce was probably first cultivated around 4500 B.C. by the ancient Egyptians, who grew it not for its leaves but for the edible oil in its seeds; it was later introduced to Britain by the Romans. Lettuce now comes in four basic types: looseleaf; butterhead, or bibb; romaine, or cos; and crisphead.

General Maintenance:
Mulch to keep soil cool and moist and slow tendency to bolt. If plants become crowded, thin to promote air circulation. Cultivate soil to reduce weeds and provide aeration.

Slugs, snails, aphids, and cutworms may occur.

Avoid watering in evening, which attracts slugs and snails. For slugs, spread diatomaceous earth around plants, or set out shallow dishes filled with beer. Hose off aphids and cutworms in the morning.

How To Sow/Plant:
In early spring, direct sow in soil amended with well-rotted manure or compost; sow 4 inches apart in 15- to 18-inch rows, covering seeds lightly. Or start seeds indoors 3?4 weeks before hardening off and transplanting. Water upon planting. To extend harvest, re-sow small rows every 10 days in soil cooler than 75°F; resume when temperature drops in late summer.

Water And Fertilize:
Keep soil evenly moist to encourage rapid growth. Feed every 3 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Garden Hint:
The keys to producing the best-tasting lettuce are cool weather, an even supply of water, and a little shade in summer. Harvesting only the outside leaves will encourage greater, more regular growth than cutting the whole plant and waiting for it to regrow. Culinary/Edible combine with: anise chives dill nasturtium parsley and other culinary herbs. In hot weather, plant lettuce in the shade of other vegetables, such as tomatoes, to shield them from midday sun.

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