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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, 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!
I 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.