Non-Green Greens and Perennial Potatoes

Mustard Ruby Streaks and Golden Streaks May 22 08

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Late spring is prime time for picking great salad fixings from the garden. We generally refer to them as “greens,” but there are many intriguing options to choose from that are anything but plain old green. One of my new favorites is a mustard variety called ‘Ruby Streaks’; it’s the jagged purple foliage shown above. The other variety shown is ‘Golden Streaks’. It’s even more frilly, and it makes a great contrast to ‘Ruby Streaks’, but it doesn’t appear nearly as golden next to other greens.

The flavor of the first cutting (about 10 days ago) was mild with just a little mustardy tang; the second cutting today is much zippier but still tasty. I’m hoping to get at least one more cutting in a week or so, but even now the plants seem to want to go to flower, so we’ll see. If they do bolt, I’m tempted to let ‘Ruby Streaks’ self-sow, because it’s so striking. Both varieties are available from Territorial Seed Company and Johnny’s Selected Seed. (Johnny’s lists the yellow-green one as ‘Golden Frills’, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same thing as ‘Golden Streaks’.)

Purple mizuna May 22 08

Mizuna has also been a great performer for me this year: I sowed it in late March and just took a third cutting from it. The jagged form of the ordinary green kind makes it interesting as-is, but I think this purple-leaved form (shown above) is even prettier, and it tastes just as good. The young leaves are mostly green, but the leaves turn more purple as they age. You can get purple mizuna from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Lettuce \'Flashy Trout\'s Back\' May 22 08

Lettuces offer some lovely green shades and some stunning reds too. I still haven’t seen anything that beats the appearance of rich red ‘Merlot’, but I found a fun “new” Romaine variety to try this year: ‘Flashy Trout’s Back’ (above). Also known as ‘Forellenschluss’, this heirloom bears bright green leaves that are heavily speckled with deep red. The flavor is great, and it looks spectacular in a salad. Territorial Seed Company sells this one too; so does Seeds of Change.

Tracking down oddities to grow in the veg garden is fun, but sometimes, the plants do odd things you don’t even expect. Last year, I tried a sampler pack of potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm and had planted two of the four varieties – ‘Caribe’ and ‘Butte’ – at the end of one raised bed. I thought I’d harvested them all, but when I prepared the bed for planting onions there this spring, I found a remaining tuber; it was mostly rotted but did seem to have a few solid bits. I was pretty impressed that it had almost survived the winter outdoors.

Volunteer potato plants May 22 08Well, a few weeks after planting my onions, I found that I must have missed another tuber, and it apparently overwintered just fine, because it’s now growing right in the middle of my lovely ‘Greek Salad’ onions. I guess I’d better move some of those onions (they’re too fantastic to waste) and see if I can get a bonus potato crop this year!

'Catalina' potato seedlings May 22 08I still have two dozen seedlings of ‘Catalina’ potato from a February sowing this year to plant out somewhere, as well. I’ve seen a few references that say that seed-grown potato plants won’t produce a harvest until the second year, so if they don’t do much this year, maybe I’ll just leave them in place and see if they too come back next year. A friend recently reported that she’s seen dahlias that overwintered outdoors around here, and I have some hybrid glads that have done the same thing. So maybe having a perennial potato patch in Pennsylvania isn’t so far-fetched after all.

9 responses to this post.

  1. What interesting salad greens. I’ve always heard the more colorful it is, the better it is for you. Something about more vitamins? I want to grow a vegetable garden here, but I don’t have enough rich soil yet. I guess I’ll have to set my sites for next year.

    Hiya, Cinj. I don’t know much about the different nutrient levels, but I do know that Mom and I eat salads a lot more often when we have interesting greens (and non-greens) from the garden, and I figure *that* has to be good. The mustards, mizuna, leaf lettuces, and many other greens grow so quickly that I’ll bet you could raise them in pots until your garden is ready. You don’t need many to liven up a plain green salad.
    -Nan

  2. Posted by ourfriendben on May 22, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Love those mustards, Nan! They are gorgeous!!! (And of course, growing up with Southern mustard greens, I like mine with some bite–just the things to add zip to a salad!) I’ll have to get those next year. You don’t say what mizuna tastes like; please do tell. It’s very pretty, too. I too am growing the speckled romaine, alternating with red, and they are both just gorgeous (and, of course, yummy). Such a great time for salad crops!!!

    I’m a new convert to the mustard greens, but I’m already in love and will definitely grow them again, especially ‘Ruby Streaks’. The mizuna is hard to describe: it has a bit more substance than most lettuces and is crisp and sweet. Yes, it’s definitely salad season!
    -Nan

  3. Hi Nan, your salad garden is almost too pretty to eat, well almost, but it is so attractive. Those pretty greens would make a wonderful, though temporary knot garden!

    Oh, what a super idea, Frances, ‘Ruby Streaks’ would makes such a pretty edging. Or maybe I should try mixing the two together…yes, I like that idea very much. Thanks!
    -Nan

  4. We have some lettuce that came in a mixed set of Romain that looks identical to yours. Some is deeper purple and others are the standard green but they all taste great! There’s nothing better than being able to walk out to your garden to make your own salad.

    I’ll bet that’s what you have, Dave, Mine are quite variable in their markings: Some are more red with green speckles, some are mostly green with a few red flecks, and some have a nice mix of both colors. Yes, having fresh greens is great!
    -Nan

  5. Nan, those lettuces are beautful! I wonder if your ‘Trout’s Back’ is the same one that I’ve seen around here in “heirloom” or “homegrown gourmet” pots, labeled with the name ‘Freckles?’ It looks almost exactly alike–and ‘Freckles’ is supposed to be a romaine type. Any idea?

    I always seem to miss sowing lettuce seeds in the spring somehow. Do you do another sowing in the fall? If so, when? That might get me to sow–and eat!–a little more healthy lettuce this year after all.

    Good question about the names, Kim. Some sources give ‘Freckles’ as a synonym for ‘Flashy Trout’s Back’ and ‘Forellenschluss’; other sources indicate that ‘Freckles’ is different but don’t specify how. I guess the name matters less than the looks and the flavor.

    Yes, definitely try lettuces in the fall! I usually sow some indoors in cell packs in early August and set them out around the middle of the month for harvesting through September and well into October. Some seem very frost-tender, but those with thicker leaves (such as ‘Merlot’) can tolerate quite a bit of frost without being covered.
    -Nan

  6. Love the “Ruby Streaks” with its deep color and leaf structure. The salad green mix we planted from seed has the purple mizuma and the forellenschluss too. Wing Nut loves the speckled lettuce leaves. I keep thinking it should decide which color it wants to be already!

    I’ll warn you about one little (well, actually kinda big) drawback I’ve found to the speckled leaves: It’s easy to overlook baby slugs on them when you’re harvesting! I noticed one last night as I was putting the harvested leaves in a bag. I was glad to have spotted it before taking the leaves indoors, but now I’m getting a little nervous that I might have missed others!
    -Nan

  7. Thanks for the warning! Maybe that’s why I find the spots unsettling. I’ve been noticing a few holes in my lettuce leaves of late. Hmmm. will definitely be on the look out for those slime buckets! Sorry, I have a hard time adopting a “christian” attitude towards slugs-though I have learned to differentiate between the natives, they get to live in peace, and the European imports, they don’t.

  8. Mouth watering photos and descriptions…goodness, I have got to start growing vegetables. The spotted Romaine is quite a temptation, too bad grocery stores don’t sell such fun ‘greens’.

    Gail

    These are so pretty that you don’t even have to think of them as vegetables. Consider them as multi-purpose annuals instead!
    -Nan

  9. Posted by Greg on January 2, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Very interesting potato result! I’m currently overwintering the potato Ecos Purple from Oikos up here in southern Maine. It’s supposed to withstand -25 degrees fahrenheit and frozen solid soils. We’ll see how it does. http://www.oikostreecrops.com/store/product.asp?P_ID=280&strPageHistory=search&strKeywords=potato&numPageStartPosition=1&strSearchCriteria=any&PT_ID=80

    Hey, thanks for the link, Greg – what a cool site! I look forward to hearing how the potato performs for you.
    -Nan

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