Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Salad Greens in the Summer

While lettuces do not thrive in our hot, humid summer weather, I have learned that some will survive and produce enough to make a decent salad. That doesn't mean I'm growing Romaine in August, but there are several greens that have pleasantly surprised me with their heat-hardiness.

I've already written about Senposai and India Spinach Beet, two Asian greens that have been extremely productive in our garden. I have a long list of other Asian greens I'm growing right now. Most are crosses between Komatsuna and other vegetables, although I am also growing Tatsoi (a pak choy) and Chin-Chiang. They are still fairly immature, although growing well. The best true salad green from Asia for the summer is Mizuna. With it's jagged, feathery edges, Mizuna is familiar to anyone who has eaten a salad made with mixed greens. The Mizuna is growing quite well, and it tastes great. It is definitely not just a poor stand-in for lettuce, and is worth growing in any vegetable garden.

The other greens that have done quite well this summer are all European in origin: arugula, sorrel, and dandelion greens. It is recommended to grow arugula in cool weather, but ours has survived full sun without dying or bolting. The taste is strong and bitter, much better than any store-bought arugula. I'm curious if the taste will be more subtle when the temperatures drop, but we're loving the sharp flavor that it has now.

I planted the sorrel in the beginning of April, and kept urging David to hurry and make sorrel soup before it died in the summer heat. He never made the soup, but the sorrel has actually grown and thrived. It is not bothered by any pests, and has formed a nice thick cluster in the garden. David is still procrastinating on that soup, but we'll have lots of sorrel when he finally gets around to it.

Growing up in Maryland, dandelions were a garden enemy that ruined our perfect green lawn. They're not a problem here in Houston, but those bad connotations have lingered so I never thought I'd voluntarily plant dandelion. I have seen Italian dandelion occasionally at the market, and was happy to learn that it is quite different from the familiar weed. It is also rich in vitamins and nutrients.

Italian dandelion was quite easy to start from seed (perhaps the reason the other dandelion spreads so readily), and the seedlings are quickly growing in the garden. The taste is a bit bitter, but nothing like the arugula or sorrel, and the leaves have a pretty sword shape. These greens seem quite versatile, and will be tasty either fresh or cooked. I just started a red Italian dandelion seed from Johnny's which will look gorgeous with the green dandelion in a salad. So far, the experimentation has paid off with lots of tasty, interesting summer greens.

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