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garden tips: grow a spring salad bar

2013 April 24
by Rachel Turiel

If you live in a place where spring is gently shaking the land awake, spreading greenness like a very slow Stadium Wave across the grey hillsides, but you’re dying to get your fingers in the garden, psst, I have an idea for you.

I started doing this last year – covering every inch of soil in spring with hardy seeds that aren’t bothered by a little frost or even snow, seeds that will become the salads of your future.

I know it’s hardly fair to post a picture of my greenhouse – but omg!

Now—even at 6512 feet—is the perfect time to sow carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, cilantro, parsley, chard, radishes, beets, bok choi, mustard greens and arugula seeds directly in the ground. Except for carrots and beets, all these leafy greens will mature by the time the primadonna cast of tomato plants march onto the outside stage, at which time, you harvest the last of your prolific greens and say casually to friends, “oh this whole succession planting thing? Yeah, it just makes sense.”

I mean really, now that we’re all making luscious soil, put that dirt to work. You can still reserve space for your honored tomato guests, just allow the placeholder of greens to fill the interim. I was trying to remember if this idea actually worked last year, and then I remembered that we took a ginormous salad to every potluck we attended all spring. So, yes.

purple mustard greens.

Be sure to over-plant, because there are a million reasons to fall in love with a salad. Plus, every time I toss another empty seed packet in the garbage, I mutter to myself, “wow, that’s some cheap therapy.” You feel this too, right? The simple joy of small green leaves who weren’t there yesterday popping up and waving at you like you’re at some joyous airport reunion, though really you’re in a stained t-shirt, windswept and maybe a little stinky under the arms, muttering to yourself in your cold, April backyard.

Rows schmows: the spinach clump.

If you’re still weeks away from the last frost-free date (we’re approximately 5 weeks away from safely settling tomatoes in the ground – but you know I’m going to push it), this is the perfect time to get started on your salad bar garden.

The Awesomeness:

* These seeds all do best sown directly in the ground, no need to start indoors.

* Harvesting real food before June at these latitudes will make you feel like a very successful farmer.

* Make use of your soil, even if it’s not nearly close to perfect. Salad greens are easy and fast to grow, and don’t require the greatest soil. You can get your greens started while you find a source of manure for the summer garden.

* You don’t even need to have your summer garden plan figured out to get started.

* Also safe to plant now: chives, onions, turnips, potatoes.

* Spring is a wonderful time to work in the garden: cooler weather, the ability to harbor illusions that your weeds really aren’t much of a problem.

* Spring is a wonderful time for plants to grow: before the grasshoppers, before the sweltering sun, before the Takeover of the Weeds.

* Arugula, chard, kale, bok choi and spinach are listed in the book, 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Iron, Vit K, A, C, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, yada yada.

Also, you can scrap the whole civilized business of agriculture, and just eat dandelions!

*I did my first garden consult yesterday. I love seeing how people love their gardens. Also, I lowered my price. I’m coming to Montezuma County (possibly next Friday) for garden consults, if you’re in the area and interested, I’m waiving my travel fee.

* I ddn’t mean to be all cryptic with my last post. Everything is fine. Just good challenges, and sometimes I turn the comments off.

May your radishes and life be sweet and spicy.

Linking with Simple Lives Thursday

22 Responses leave one →
  1. anne permalink
    April 24, 2013

    okay, I’m getting out there TODAY and getting something in the ground. We’re in VT and I keep procrastinating on starting seedlings/improving soil quality/and learning to can. I’ve declared that THIS will be the year. So…you’re going to offer a canning tutorial later this summer, right? haha. Seriously, though, I love your new business concept and wish we lived closer so that we could get a consult!

  2. Melissa permalink
    April 24, 2013

    Avi and I (along w my much more methodical, mathmetician father in law) just did this on Sunday and I am not exaggerating when I say I nearly burst from happiness!! Fingers crossed that our salad bar actually grows… Xo

  3. April 24, 2013

    Happy Gardening! I have been succession planting greens for two weeks now. My salad bar is starting to pop up! I can’t wait to be able to run out & pick dinner. Just a few more weeks….

  4. Susanna permalink
    April 24, 2013

    Thank you! You’ve got a great spirit!

  5. April 24, 2013

    Rachel, one thing I’m curious about. No question, poop is a great source of nutrients for gardens, but, especially with salad greens, I worry about using even well-rotted manure for food crops because of the possibility of E. coli and other germy exposures. That’s why I’ve mostly been using “green manure,” which is a combination of garden waste, non-animal food scraps (with the exception of eggshells) and yard waste, mulching the beds nicely with straw, more yard waste, newspaper, whatever’s handy and not poop, in the wintertime. Obviously, it makes good sense to wash any and all veggies really thoroughly before eating them, but even three or four rinses doesn’t necessarily get all the E. coli off of a spinach leaf, just for example. Nothing is without bacteria, but I’ve just been nervous about using manure as a food crop compost/fertilizer. Clearly, you’re making it work safely. What are your thoughts? Thanks! Susan

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 25, 2013


      I’ve always relied on manure as a major soil additive/conditioner/fertilizer. And yes, there is a small risk of intriducing e. coli to your soil, but I believe in the balance of soil microorganisms and the greater likelihood of beneficial organisms outnumbering any harmful organisms, just like the e. coli that lives in our gut is usually kept in check by beneficial bacteria.

      This is a helpful article on reducing the risk of e. coli in the garden:

  6. Andrea permalink
    April 24, 2013

    my only problem is that i have a bad attitude about eating salad in the time of year it grows. its still so cold here and dark and damp and i am still craving potato, soup, warm food. i totally get that sounds negative and grumpy.

    maybe i need a greenhouse? an escape from the elements?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 25, 2013

      Sauteed bok choi…chard and potato soup…spinach quiche…kale omelets…or salads with warm, bulky, ingredients like: eggs, potatoes, avocado?

  7. April 24, 2013

    oooh I love seeing all those greens! I did a spring greens post today too, goes to show you how ridiculously excited one can get for spring garden greens. LOVE the greenhouse pic, I can’t wait till we have a greenhouse to boost up production.

    I’ve designed some ‘salad’ beds and some ‘stir fry’ beds..oh… and borscht beds complete with beets, red cabbage & rainbow carrots :)

    happy green eating!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 25, 2013

      Borscht beds! The matriarchs of my Jewish Eastern European lineage are verrrry happy to hear that.

  8. April 25, 2013

    I’m feeling inspired. Thanks! As long as I can keep that pesky chicken out who seems to be able to fly over any fence with her wings clipped I’m good to go!

  9. lau permalink
    April 25, 2013

    “The simple joy of small green leaves who weren’t there yesterday popping up and waving at you like you’re at some joyous airport reunion, though really you’re in a stained t-shirt, windswept and maybe a little stinky under the arms…” ahhh it IS the best therapy. As someone planting seeds and seeing green leaves for the first time EVER …. it makes me unproportionatley giddy. Thank you. So well put.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 25, 2013

      Congrats on your first time. :)

      • April 25, 2013

        psst. it’s time you knew, rachel. lau is my bff. (and i’m so proud, lau!) we stalk each other on your blog, ie we comment to each other when we read each others’ comments. also, i fixed that image. i saw it last night, while i was home in my bed, reading on my offline laptop, so i didn’t get to fix it right away…. should be good to go but let me know if you need anything else.

        • Rachel Turiel permalink*
          April 25, 2013

          You are truly amazing, you hippie techno geek. xo

        • lau permalink
          April 26, 2013

          hee hee hee! :D hippie techno geek! i LOVE it!

  10. April 26, 2013

    Absolutely LOVE all salad greens! I go to Michigan State University and work in a passive solar hoop house where we grow herbs and salad greens year-round (organically of course), and our greens this year were amazing! The cold weather makes the most delicious and sweet leaves, especially the spinach and arugula!

  11. April 27, 2013

    So I live in Georgia and we are already hitting mid to high 70s. Too late for greens??

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 27, 2013

      They will grow fast in that weather! Can you give them a little shade? They would love morning sun and afternoon shade, so if you can plant on the east side of a shed or house or fence or tree that would be helpful.
      You can also create your own shade by planting a clump or row of sunflowers (which grow very fast) to the west of your greens.

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