Oh Lettuce. You are delicious and interesting but you only ever end up bitter and bolted for me. Spinach? I just need so much of you to make anything, I’m never sure if you are worth it. Kale? You are fine and I can grow you, but you don’t blow my skirt up and we never use as much as we grow. Swiss Chard? I always feel like I should grow you, but I never know what to do with you. All other greens? You and I don’t know each other well, perhaps we need to change that!
One big PRO for most greens is that they can handle a bit less sun than many other veggies. They can happily live on 4ish hours of full sun or some sun/dappled shade mix. And they grow really well in containers. And they are fast crops. So really, there’s a whole lot going for them.
Time to Maturity: 30-50 days depending on the size leaf you’d like.
Diseases & Pests: Flea Beetles love Kale and most other greens- use floating row covers if they are an issue. Slugs, if you have them, will decimate a stand of new leafy seedlings, just try not to use slug pellets because whatever eats those dead slugs will get a dose of poison too. Cabbage moths may attack Collards and other brassica related greens, again with the floating row covers.
Key Words: Slow to bolt and sweet flavor are the only two I pay attention to. I kid! (but only sort of) Think about how you like to use your greens (cooked vs. raw), what sorts of dishes you like, and just try whatever sounds good or fun. Lettuces especially are inexpensive and easy to grow- a perfect place to take a chance on something.
Use: Obviously greens have a million uses outside of salads. Radicchio and choy can be grilled. All of them can be turned into pesto. Chard can substitute for cabbage leaves in certain dishes. Kale can become chips. Be adventurous with your greens! Do try succession sowing to make sure you have plenty of crop to harvest throughout the growing season, or try different varieties when one finishes!
My Favorites: I can’t say I have any actual favorites? I’m still trying to find my can’t-do-without-it varieties.
What I’ve Grown in the Past:
Lettuces: Tennis Ball, Amish Deer Tongue, Red Romaine, Grandpa Admire’s
Kales: Niro di Toscano (easy to grow and very tasty, pick this one if you are new to kale), Red Russian, Dwarf Green Curled
Other: Prize Choy, Pak Choy ‘Extra Dwarf’, Fordhook Giant Chard, Pink Flamingo Chard, Rainbow Chard
What I’d Like to Try: This year I’m going to try to utilize the area in the Potager to grow more greens. With any luck the morning shade will be just enough to keep the greens sweeter and less quick to bolt. Then again, it might just mean more powdery mildew. The plan will include Swiss Chard ‘Bali Red Rhubarb’, Tatsoi, Lettuce ‘Forellenschluss’, Lettuce ‘Rouge d’Hiver’, and possibly some Radicchio if I’m feeling adventurous. These are almost all varieties I already had and want to try again.
Notes: For some strange reason greens as a whole are the category of vegetable that I most strongly feel I should grow despite not being massive salad lovers. Peer pressure? Perhaps because Monty Don grows so many and they always look amazing? I do continually try new varieties and try to find ways to make my green less bitter and more enjoyable. This year I’ve decided to lean into the sorts of greens that beg to be cooked rather than fresh salad leaves. But don’t feel pressured to grow anything- especially not if its Kale or greens of any kind! Use your garden space for the things you love to grow, things that get you excited or pique your interest. Don’t give up that valuable space because someone told you Kale/Chard/Collards/whatever are the next big thing.