Thinning and preparing mesclun/greens-keeping your homegrown greens fresh!

Here are my steps to thinning and preparing mesclun so it doesn’t WILT in your refrigerator. In fact you can use this method after you clean any greens in ANY STAGE from microgreens to full grown lettuce and greens from the garden or store bought.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING if you are growing any greens is to PICK THEM FIRST THING IN THE MORNING when they are fresh-not the heat of the day, OTHERWISE THEY WILL BE WILTED NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO (are you listening Lava?). During this first stage of mesclun, it is a little more labor intensive. (After the leaves grow more, you will just cut off the tops above the crowns so they can grow back and there will not be much dirt since you are not pulling these out by the roots.)

Here is the mesclun in my salad bowl I made. Notice they are very cramped with not much dirt showing. I need to thin these out so the leaves can get bigger without overcrowding.

Thin out the mesclun. The goal here is to have some dirt showing to give the remaining leaves some room to grow.

Now the mesclun (first thinnings) are like microgreens and are ready to clean. Notice the roots are still on them. You can cut them off or eat them if you rinse well. Here I’m leaving them on. Of course you could just feed them to the chickens or throw them out but I don’t like to waste them plus they are yummy! You would pay big bucks for just a tiny bit of microgreens in the stores.

Here is the mesclun at the first rinse. I first clean my sinks out with bleach so I know they are clean. I suppose you could use big bowls to rinse instead. I filled my sink with COLD WATER from the faucet. Notice the leaves float on top while the dirt mostly sinks to the bottom. From here I gently scoop out the leaves trying to leave the dirt on the bottom of the sink or bowl and transfer them to the other side of the sink full of water for the second rinsing. By the way, rinsing this way is way easier than using a colander.  It works really well for spinach too. This way removes the dirt that can stay in a colander.

Second rinse-Notice most of the dirt is gone at the bottom of the sink after I  have removed the leaves.

At this stage I do one hand rinse in case their is more dirt trapped on the roots. Then I put them into…

The last rinse- notice the dirt is gone. Rinse more if you still have dirt.

Since I grow the lettuce bowl inside, I use seed starting mix and you need to look out for the perlite that is in it as it can float in the water instead of sinking like the dirt-so be on the lookout for it. Just scoop them off the surface of the water before you do each rinse. It would be a little too crunchy in my salad!

Now the leaves are ready for the spinner. Just don’t pack it too full as the leaves are very delicate. Spin it in small batches and..

gently place it in a loose plastic bag (not ziploc) lined with a dry paper towel. Then this next trick is very important. I learned it from reading Dorie Greenspan’s book,  Around My French Table where you…

squeeze the bag so there is only a small opening and blow into the bag with your breath. This will fill the bag with carbon dioxide (which we expel) and then blow it up till it is full and..

tie off with a twistie tie so the air doesn’t escape and put into your refrigerator. YOUR GREENS WILL STAY FRESH FOR ABOUT A WEEK. Be sure you blow into it each time you get some greens out before putting it back into the refrigerator again. This takes up a little more room in your refrigerator but is worth it. No more homegrown wilted greens! Pretty cool trick, huh?!

Seed starting INSIDE

I’ve been planting seeds INSIDE for a couple of weeks now. Here is my update on my seed starting endeavors this spring so far.

PEAS-Not everything is successful-My pea seeds I planted inside have NOT done well as I had hoped. They are barely coming up now inside so I planted more outside and if these make it, I will add to the other seeds that I planted outside on Saturday. I think the heating mat was too hot for them so I put them on a table under the lights but with no heat. We will see..

FAVA BEANS-I’m so excited-I’ve never grown fava beans before but are trying them this year. I sprouted fava beans that I got from that Homegrown seed swap and bought some more that I got from Spanish Table Market here in Santa Fe. The companies would like to say that the ones they sell you to eat are different then the ones they sell you to grow.  If they are treated then that would be true but so far I have not found that to be the case. They are both sprouting just fine. Today I saw three of them breaking ground in their little pots on the heat mat under the lights. Once up I will transplant them outside as they like the cold. I’ll talk about them later.

CHARD, BOK CHOY seeds planted-MAR 13-The chard and bok choy germinated in 2 days!

BORAGE seeds planted-MAR 13-Germinated in 3 days!

MORE LETTUCE-seeds planted-MAR 13-just starting to come up

SPINACH seeds planted inside as well as outside -MAR 13-Not up yet

TOMATOES-seeds planted today-Sunday, MAR 18-planted 27 different varieties! Hope to put them out 8 weeks from now-mid May or sooner. Last year I planted tomato seeds inside on Mar 21.

POTATOES-I’ve been chitting them for a week now. Chitting is getting the potato eyes to sprout.

The next major inside seed starting will be in 2 weeks-Basil, oregano, marjoram, zinnias and probably a lot more.

Chard choices

Bright lights/photo courtesy of cooksgarden.com

Now is the time to plant Chard or (Swiss chard or Silverbeet as it is called).  There are many types of chard and I would like to go over a few of them and my experience with them. Chard is a close relative of the beet and should be planted in the ground at the same time as beets which is now. It will sprout early and will not be harmed by spring frosts. Harvest the outer leaves first (usually in 4-6 weeks) and leave the center intact and it will keep growing and supply you with more throughout the summer season. It usually doesn’t flower until it’s second year-it is a biennial. For that reason, I replant it every year as it will put more effort into flowering in it’s second year and you won’t get as many big leaves. One planting will last the entire season and it will not ‘bolt’ in the heat of summer. I pull it up after the season as I rather it put all it’s energy into those big leaves. A great substitute for spinach which will be gone after spring.

Fordhook chard/photo courtesy of seedsavers.org

-The best chard I find to plant for fall/winter is Argentata which is very cold hardy even in our winter temperatures. It can withstand colder temperatures more than many other types of chard. You can get it at John Schweepers or Gourmetseed. It is a white variety with big juicy thick stems. Both the stems and leaves are delicious.

-Another great white variety is ‘Fordhook’ which is similar to Argentata and can be found at seedsaversexchange along with Rhubarb Red. You can plant this in the spring and enjoy it this summer.

I like 5-Color Silverbeet, and Bright Lights, for the multi-color varieties. The stems are not as thick and juicy as the white varieties but the color is to die for and I always plant some among the flowers to add additional color to the garden and they are good to eat as well.

Red Charlotte chard/photo courtesy of cooksgarden.com

I also like other red varieties in addition to Rhubarb Red mentioned above-Magic Red and Red Charlotte can be found at Cook’s Gardens

Try growing all these together and enjoy each one through the summer season!

I like to eat these chopped coarsely and steamed with a balsamic vinaigrette over them as a vegetable or sauteed in olive oil and put on pasta with butter along with some chicken and Parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Red Orach (mountain spinach) and Bright Lights Chard

I just picked some Bright Lights Chard that overwintered in the coldframe and with the chard were a few plants of Red Orach (also called mountain spinach) that have been reseeding itself.  The variety of orach I grew came from Baker Heirloom Rare Seed company and it makes a great red addition to salads or used as steamed greens. I steamed the chard and Red Orach on top of some pasta tonight yummy. It tastes like spinach and you should pick it when it’s young and tender to eat. Red Orach really is an incredible deep magenta red color. Look how beautiful they look together!

Chard and Red Orach for dinner tonight

Plant peas, spinach, and arugula on St. Patrick’s Day

Today is ST. PATRICK’S DAY- TIME TO PLANT PEAS, SPINACH AND ARUGULA. I always plant them right around now and use the holiday as a reminder. I stayed home today to recoup after putting Butch down. Getting my hands in the soil is always grounding for me. Lots of things to do right now regarding gardening. Here are some of the things I did today.

COLDFRAME-I inspected the rabbit damage to see if the spinach seedlings are salvageable. All but one of them are starting to grow back from the crown which were undamaged. I planted seeds of the following in the coldframe:

SPINACH-Bloomsdale-45 days in the other half of the coldframe.

CHARD-I didn’t know (or remember) that chard is a biennial (meaning two years) but spends it’s second year mostly growing to produce seed which is why they never seem to produce as big of leaves the second year. I will pull them and plant more chard seeds-white variety.

OUTSIDE RAISED BED-Checked the outside raised beds by the house. Last fall I I dug some old horse manure into one of them and it looks great. I planted the following seeds and covered them with row cover to keep the rabbits from them:

PEAS-Dwarf Grey peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II-60 days

SPINACH-Bloomsdale-45 days and a giant variety of spinach (there I go again!) called Monstrueux de Viroflay-50 days

BUTTERHEAD LETTUCE-Yugoslavian Red-40 days

MESCLUN-Provencal mix-40 days

CILANTRO

CUTTING LETTUCE-a new super red variety of  called Sea of Red-40 days

ROMAINE-Paris Island Cos-68 days

ARUGULA-Apollo-30 days

IN THE SECOND RAISED BED- Took out the last of the carrots from fall that overwintered. They should be extra sweet! The garlic I bought at SF Farmers Market last fall is coming up in it. Lightly dug in some Yum-Yum Mix in the remainder of the bed as I’m going to plant more carrots, beets and shallots which are heavy feeders and need some extra fertilizer especially if you are putting them back in the same area. I will plant:

CARROTS- Purple Haze and Danvers

BEETS-Detroit Dark Red-60 days, Bulls Red Beet-50 days and Early Wonder beet-48 days

DUTCH SHALLOTS-picked up some Dutch Red Shallots while I wait for the French shallots to arrive. Should be a good taste test at harvest time.

MAIN GARDEN-I hooked up the hose and watered the strawberries and the asparagus. Underneath the layer of dried leaves in the strawberry bed I see new leaves starting to grow from the crowns. The asparagus is either dead from our very cold winter or they haven’t started growing yet, we will see..