Though the soil in your garden may still be chilly – or even frozen solid – if you start now, you can be harvesting your own fresh salad greens in just four to six weeks!
The seeds of most greens will germinate at temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. This means you can sow directly into the garden as soon as the soil has thawed out and is dry enough to be forked over and raked smooth.
If the ground is still too cold and wet, start your greens indoors under fluorescent lights. Sow one or two seeds per planting cell so you won't have to disturb the roots when transplanting. Once seedlings emerge, keep lights within 2 to 3 inches of foliage and keep lights "on" 12 to 15 hours per day. Transplant into the garden after three to four weeks.
Cover newly seeded beds and transplants with wire hoops and garden fabric to warm the soil and protect plants from cold wind and hard frosts. In zones 3 to 5, use heavyweight GardenQuilt. In zones 6 and warmer, use All-Purpose Garden Fabric. Support the fabric with support hoops and anchor it securely with Easy-Out Earth Staples.
There are scores of lettuce varieties choose from, and many other interesting salad greens, such as arugula, endive and mizuna. Plant a few different types to see what grows best and which ones you enjoy the most. Try at least one mesclun mix, two heading lettuces and an early spinach.
Most pest and disease problems can be blamed on poor air circulation and excess moisture. Keeping plants well spaced minimizes rot and deters slugs. Leaves can be picked as they mature, or use a scissors to cut entire plants within a half-inch of the base. Leaf lettuces will usually re-grow, producing one or two more crops.
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