Despite chilly, rainy days in the recent weeks of early spring, May will soon be showing us the brighter and warmer days which are perfect for planting garden greens.
When it comes to cultivating different kinds of leafy greens to join into your meals, Robyn Jasko of Kutztown has the perfect background to give great recommendations. Jasko is the co-founder of the organic community garden in Kutztown, which is on the grounds of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center on Kutztown University’s campus. She served as the garden’s co-manager for several years and is the author of Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make and Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, which she published in 2012.
By 2013, Jasko opened Homesweet Homegrown, LLC, which specializes in producing hot sauces with the peppers she grows “using organic practices, biodynamic farming methods and zero pesticides or sprays.” The business is also now Certified Naturally Grown.
In the past, Jasko has grown bok choy, kale, collards and mustard greens. She’ll soon be planting kale and arugula as some of her crops on three acres of farmland in Kutztown.
“Some greens, like Asian bok choy or mustard greens, like cooler weather, so they usually grow March to May,” Jasko says. “Kale and collards can be harvested all season long.”
Here are Jasko’s tips.
1. Start with the Soil
Jasko prefers to grow seeds directly in the ground since she says transplanting can be tough on plants.
“They are stronger and less prone to disease and pests if they are planted directly in the ground,” she notes.
“Cultivate and work your soil before you do any planting so you have a clean slate to start with,” Jasko says. “Most seeds and sprouts do not like to compete with weeds, and in the beginning, they may be hard to differentiate from the weed seeds sprouting. So starting with a well-cultivated area and marking your seeds is a great way to keep track of everything.”
2. Read the Package!
Jasko points out that seed packets are a great resource of information. Read them well ahead of time and save them for easy reference.
“Definitely check seed packets to know what grows when–you don’t want to plant radishes or lettuce in the height of summer, or they will bolt (AKA, go to seed),” she says.
3. Use a Seeder
Since seeds for greens are so incredibly small, Jasko uses a Jang seeder or similar gardening tools because hand-seeding often leads to over-seeding, which wastes seeds and takes up more time later in thinning out the plants.
“Using a seeder gives you perfect spacing and rows, making it very easy to weed and plant,” Jasko says.
4. Don’t Let Anything Go to Waste
And since greens can go to seed suddenly sooner than we often realize they will, Jasko has a way to be sure to use this to your benefit.
“They can go to seed very quickly, especially if we have a heat wave,” Jasko says, “but if this happens, don’t worry, you can eat the flowers! They are all edible and great on salads. We once had an entire bed of arugula go to seed, and I cut the flowers and even dried them to use in soups, salads, dips, dressing–you name it. Don’t let anything go to waste. Any greens, even bolted greens, are also excellent pickled or as kimchi. Have fun with it!”
5. Trim Greens Often
Jasko says to trim greens for harvesting every 2 to 3 weeks but sometimes more often, if necessary.
“Check weekly to determine when to cut,” she advises. “And, don’t cut the entire plant of course, just the top or outer leaves, so it keeps growing.”
Jasko tends to use scissors or a knife to cut most greens, but she simply breaks off kale and collards with her hands.
6. Appreciate the Life Cycle
In some cases, especially with lettuce, the plants can grow for a while and taste bitter, but Jasko explains that this is just part of the life cycle of the plants.
“There is no way to stop it,” she says about the bitter flavor switch. “You just have to plant more lettuce. Succession sowing (AKA, planting lettuce every 4 weeks) will keep you flush with greens all year.”
7. Defend Your Greens from Pests
Then there are pests and predators to consider.
“Voles make little tunnels in the soil, and groundhogs and deer will eat the entire plant down to the roots,” Jasko notes. “Deer and groundhogs are the biggest culprits. And who can blame them. Greens are tasty! I use solar-powered gopher and vole sticks to keep them at bay. I bought them on Amazon.com, and they emit a sound and vibration every 30 minutes.
The critters don’t like the sound and vibration, so this has kept them away from Jasko’s plants well every year, she confirms.
Deer fencing is another resource she uses.
And Now It’s Salad Time!
Now onto the delectable part where you can think about what to create with what you grow. This arugula salad recipe is easy, quick to make, simple and full of compelling flavors.
- Enough arugula for however many people you're feeding to have one salad of your size preference
- A ball of burrata or mozzarella
- Several slices of prosciutto or speck
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
- In a bowl, add enough freshly washed arugula for whatever size of salad you need.
- Cut enough burrata or mozzarella to give a good amount of its flavor to the salad, per bowl.
- Join a few prosciutto or speck slices to each salad you're making.
- Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the ingredients.
- Finish with a light sprinkling of sea salt.