The official first day of spring was March 20, but along the North Shore, spring tends to blossom a little later. While most gardening books say we can begin planting spring greens in early spring, we know for us that could be as late as early May.
Spring greens are a lovely crop for those of us antsy to get our hands in the soil after a long, cold winter. A typical spring green is described as a member of the cabbage family that does not come to a head. This includes kale, bok choy, spinach and mustard greens, as well as dandelion greens, mizuna, arugula and some lettuces if an early crop is the goal.
Spring greens prefer cool weather as warmer climates can cause plants to bolt (which means to flower and go to seed) early. Mild weather promotes leaf production, which means plentiful garden salads for your dinner table. Harvest times may vary based on the type of spring green you plan to grow, but all are an easy crop to start in early May, or as soon as the soil is workable and the chance of a hard frost has passed. A hard frost is a period of around four hours with temperatures below 25 degrees F. This is definitely a possibility in May, so keep an eye on the weather, or try planting in a small hoop house to ensure crop protection. Here are some common spring greens for you to try in your early garden.
Arugula: Originally found in the Mediterranean, arugula, or rocket, as it is otherwise known, is a delicate green with a peppery bite to it. Arugula loves to be thinned to approximately 4-6 inches between plants and can be harvested at full growth around 6-8 weeks.
Bok choy: A member of the cabbage family, bok choy forms a loose white stemmed head with rich green leaves. A great addition to salads, stir-fry, or in homemade kimchi—this is a green that loves the cool weather. Thin to 8-12 inches apart, depending on the size of your bok choy variety. Entire heads can be harvested, or individual leaves, at around 6-8 weeks.
Kale: Kale plants are profoundly cold hardy; although you still want to be mindful of the potential for a hard freeze, you can plant kale varieties before the last frost. This is one of those rare crops that can actually be harvested in the snow. This is a crop well-suited for the northern gardener, and incredibly nutritious to boot. Kale likes to be thinned to two feet apart depending on the variety (and there are lots of varieties), and you can begin harvesting the leaves at around eight weeks.
Mizuna: Also a member of the cabbage family, mizuna can tolerate both hot and cool temperatures. Almost mustard-like in flavor, the mizuna plant prefers to be about 6-12 inches from its neighbors. Individual leaves, or the entire head, can be harvested after about six weeks from germination. This green makes for a special, flavorful addition to any salad.
Spinach: Rich in nutrients, spinach is an excellent addition to the northern garden, as it loves cooler temperatures. It can be planted in early spring and leaves can be harvested as early as six weeks from germination. Planting a crop every 10 days can ensure a constant crop throughout the summer and early fall.
It is difficult to find a match, nutritionally, to the green leafy vegetable. Not only are they excellent detoxifiers, they are very rich in vitamins and minerals. Our motto with greens should be “the greener the better” as the nutrition content will be much higher in your kales and spinach than say your lettuces. All green leafy vegetables contain a healthy dose of vitamin A and C, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and folic acid. As most gardeners know, thinning plants as they grow is beneficial to vibrant growth. When thinning spring greens, the pulled sprouts can be used as micro-greens in sandwiches and salads, or simply eaten as is—so don’t throw them out. They are just as delicious and nutritious as their full-grown counterparts.
Spinach Salad with Ginger Dressing
- 3 tablespoons of onion, minced
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 10 ounces fresh spinach
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
To create the dressing, blend first eight ingredients until well combined. Toss the spinach, carrot and red bell pepper together. Then, gently toss with dressing until dressing is evenly distributed. Serves 4.
Easy Miso-Chicken Ramen
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced, green separated from white parts
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 4 cups water
- 3 tablespoons white miso
- 1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
- 8 cups chopped bok choy
- 4 ounces dried Chinese noodles, broken in half
- 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add green onion whites, garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, miso, soy sauce and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil; bring to a boil. Stir in chicken, bok choy, noodles and mushrooms. Cover and return to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, 3-5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with green onion greens. Serves 4.
By Kim Falter