While the snow and wind raged outside the greenhouse in early March, I made plans to exchange some shelf space in my hobby greenhouse for a few small gardens; yet still leave ample shelf room to raise bedding plants. My idea was to have early produce for the table as well as the fun of early gardening.
The gardens were easy to assemble. To construct each 6×4-foot garden, all I used were three railway ties, cut to fit, and positioned into a rectangular shape. This size bed could also work well by raising it another tie higher for gardeners who find bending down difficult. I planned for only one tie high as the temperature is cool close to the floor and I wanted to have these little gardens in use until the summer heat forced us to use the outdoor garden.
Our four-year-old compost pile consists of decomposed leaves, grass clippings, loamy soil and well-aged manure. It made excellent soil for the beds. With great enthusiasm I planned each tiny garden differently, although the “Salad Bowl” was clearly the favourite. I searched the seed catalogues for exotic greens to make a mesclun mix for the salad garden. The end decision consisted of less than one dozen varieties.
A must buy was the red-bronze oak leaf Garrison lettuce, purchased at Johnny’s selected seeds. The flawlessly shaped oak leaves are as colourful as real autumn leaves and stay as tender as most green varieties of lettuce.
Grand Rapids lettuce is not a new variety but has long been a garden favourite. It germinates within four days despite the cool spring weather. The slightly tinged bronze tips on mature medium-green leaves are as attractive as they are tasty.
Buttercrunch and Simpson flaunt delicate lighter-green leaves and are prized for their high-quality, extra-crisp, tender taste. These lighter-coloured lettuces are the foundation to any good mesclun mix. The most interesting new
lettuce added to my collection is Red
Romaine Flashy Trout Back. As soon as the foliage peeked
through the soil everyone admired it. True to
its name, the leaves are splashed with red
spots on medium green which resemble trout colour or confetti. The thick romaine leaves remain tender after being picked for several days.
Japanese mustard green, Mizuna, displays light-green, serrated, lacy leaves with white ribs, and a taste of mild, tangy mustard. It tolerates heat or cold making it an excellent choice to grow on our Prairies.
Another unique decorative ultra-succulent type of green to try is red-veined sorrel. The tiny, oval, light-green leaves with deep berry-coloured veins are absolutely tops for finishing a decorative salad. Sorrel is a perennial in various climates. Since this is my first year at growing this beauty, only time will tell if it overwinters in our area.
My little “Salad Bowl” garden has certainly been a success. Within two weeks of seeding, we’ve feasted on the most versatile and attractive salads ever. We are still sharing and using our greens. Since all are cool-weather cut-and-come-again plants, we hope to extend the bounty well into summer.
If possible, find a spot in your garden for a few of these smorgasbord novelties. They are quick and easy to grow; simply follow the instructions on each seed package. Blend the greens together in your prettiest bowl and then decide whether to eat or simply admire.
– Lillian Deedman writes from Killarney, Manitoba