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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Winter Salad Bowl (page 2 of 4)

by Jack Ruttle

Arugula (Eruca sativa)

Recently, arugula has become king of gourmet salad greens. It's also among the hardiest. The plant achieves finest flavor when grown in the cooler months, and the leaves maintain quality through repeated freeze/thaw cycles.

Coleman harvests October-sown arugula in his tunnel-covered cold frames through January. For midwinter, the variety Selvatica takes the cold a little better and is a little milder flavored, though it's a bit slower to germinate tha the ordinary arugula.

"Arugula is what I find myself sowing the most. It's quicker to sprout and grow over a wider range of temperatures than just about anything else. In January, when I stop strewing mache in gaps between plants, I start with the arugula seed," he says. Thinnings from early January are big enough to harvest in two months.

Plant arugula in rows four inches apart, with seed about an inch apart in the row. Begin harvesting plants at two inches tall, until plants are six inches apart. Cut the tough root. On larger plants, harvest outer leaves.

Claytonia (Montia perfoliata)

This is the Pacific Coast miner's lettuce, which has been selected for winter salad production by German and Dutch seedsmen. In Europe it's sometimes called winter purslane. The plant produces a cluster of smooth, tender leaves atop four-inch stalks that arise from a crown that will produce new leaves all winter. In spring, clusters of white flowers form where the stalk joins the leaf. The leaves with flowers are edible, too -- it's one of the few leaf crops whose flavor doesn't go downhill when the plant begins to flower.

Coleman broadcasts the very small seed in shallow rows spaced four to six inches apart. In the furrows, the seed should be about an inch apart. Begin harvesting two months later. Coleman grasps a bunch of the leaf stalks and cuts them about four inches below the leaf. Then he trims off the bottom two inches for the compost pile. The plant grows a new cluster of leaves and the harvest continues in the frames all winter.

Endive (Chicorium endiva)

Both ragged-edged and the broad-leaved (or escarole) endive make very large plants, much bigger than a lettuce. Late in the season, once plants are large, tie leaves into a bunch to make a blanched heart. Protected by frames, these will last well into winter. Though the outer leaves freeze and spoil, there will be a delectable heart inside even in January.

To get large endives takes about 80 days, but some smaller types mature more quickly, and any will give delicious, "thinning"-sized plants (about four inches tall) in 45 days. In the North, a September sowing will not make large heads. In the South, sow endive thick and early for thinnings and for large heads in winter. Small endive plants are a component of mesclun, a mixture of young salad greens. Younger leaves are more delicate and not as strong-tasting as mature leaves. In frames, sow the seed an inch apart and harvest thinnings. Once the plants are about six inches apart, begin harvesting outer leaves.

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