February 9, 2020
The story behind our mixed greens begins in 2008 when we started up market gardening after our move to the farm. Among a host of other vegetables, we put out lettuce to grow into large heads for sale at our stand near Frankford. We soon discovered that growing things organically meant that by the time we were ready to harvest the lettuce, the amount of waste was phenomenal.
Prepared greens mixes seemed a better option. We tried mesclun, health kick, mild and spicy. They come in all “flavours”. We had put up a cold frame greenhouse by then and we would seed directly into the beds. Some people didn’t like the chervil in the mix, others found some of the mustards too hot. To get the right mix which seems to please most people we now work with approximately 50 different varieties of greens including lettuces, endives, mustards, chicories, kales, arugula, beets, chard, spinach, oriental greens, orach, amaranth, corn salad and winter purslane.
Now, we seed into trays and transplant seedlings into plugs or directly into the greenhouse beds. This allows the current patch of greens to continue producing while the next one is on its way. It also eliminates the need for constant weeding.
When the seedlings or plugs are ready to transplant into the beds, it is time to remove any weeds and greens that are no longer producing.
We then fill up any space with the new transplants. The greens are generally ready to harvest within 3 weeks of planting. We harvest in a way that leaves the stem intact. That way the plant will continue to produce leaves until it finally just goes to seed.
We repeat this process from February until the end of October.
The last transplants of 2019 have taken us through the winter.
The hoops you see support the frost blankets when it freezes through the late fall and winter. Patio stones and field stones are heat sinks to help modify the temperature.
In addition to our salad mix, we also produce a kale mix of about ten different varieties of kale. We cut the young outer kale leaves until the main stem becomes more robust. At that point, we cut the whole top. With the leading shoot no longer suppressing growth further down along the stem, multiple new shoots emerge. This process can go on for over a year.
Swiss Chard is another long-term producer. We cut the whole plant at the base of the plant, leaving the short stem intact. New multiple shoots emerge from the stem and can be cut again in a few weeks.
All the oriental greens and mustards can be harvested the same way. At a certain point, they will bolt and go to seed and need to be replaced by a new planting. We often leave some to drop their seed to provide continuity through the countless volunteers that germinate and grow into harvestable greens in a matter of weeks.
One of the main principles I use in our gardens is to expend the least amount of effort and energy to accomplish what I envision. It is pointless to weed unless there is something to plant into the space left open. It’s always easier to work with the cycles and rhythms of Nature. That doesn’t mean you end up with a designer garden, but it works.
There is a level of disorder in our greenhouses that comes from self-seeding and planting in spaces here and there. That could be frustrating for someone who likes to keep things ordered into neat parcels of this or that. However, as I am the one overseeing the whole, I know exactly where to find what I’m looking for. Ordered gardens are for the benefit of others. We enjoy a haphazard garden created by us and all the other forces at play.