leafy aspirations 1
Image: John Valls

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Choose Your Blend

To create a blend of salad greens to suit your personal taste, peruse seed catalogs that sell a range of greens that adapt well to the Pacific Northwest climate. You want to pick greens with a diversity of colors, textures and flavors. For instance, select some cold-hardy lettuces (try at least one red and one green variety), then add a cold-hardy spinach or a good early beet green. You’ll want a sweet, buttery, dark green mâche as well as a bitter, hot or peppery green or two, such as frisée, mustard or arugula, to add contrast. Incorporating herbs like chervil, dill or parsley will also add a palate-cleansing, tonic quality to your salads. If you’re adventurous, consider unusual greens such as the succulent, slightly sour purslane, which is high in vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, or miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), an extremely cold-hardy native annual that was eaten by early miners and settlers and is high in vitamin C.

Sow Your Seeds

Get a jump on your first harvest of the season by starting in March. Invest in a soil thermometer ($9.99 at Portland Nursery, multiple locations, portlandnursery.com) so you can tell when the soil has reached 40 to 45 degrees. At this point, direct-sow the most cold-hardy greens like frisée (curly chicory), mâche, arugula, salad mustards and the more cold-hardy lettuces. As the soil warms a bit more in April (to around 50 degrees), plant chard, beet and spinach greens as well. Or try a premixed seed blend composed of cold-hardy winter and spring greens.

Sow your greens in mixtures or by separating individual types. Mixtures mature at different rates, but you can pick plants from the row as needed or just harvest everything at once, no matter its size. Depending on your layout, sow either in blocks or rows about three to six inches apart. I love the tidy look of close-set rows of greens, with varied jewel-toned colors and contrasting textures. Keep in mind that you need to be able to reach all the plants with your garden scissors or hands (if plucking individual leaves).

For continuous harvest, sow seeds for salad mixes every 7 to 21 days from March or April to September. (For June to August sowings, select heat-tolerant varieties to minimize bolting, particularly if you are allowing some of your greens to mature before harvesting.)

Protecting the Patch

The most challenging aspect of growing delicate greens during the wet season is keeping slugs at bay. Try using organic diatomaceous earth or organic slug bait like Sluggo or Worry Free Slug & Snail Bait. Rid your garden of pieces of wood, rocks and pots sitting on the soil near your vegetable bed, as they provide refuge for slugs. You can also simply plant more greens than you need so that you can afford to share.