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Organic Gardening with Sue Robishaw

Grow Tasty  Homestead Salads
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Lettuce & Spinach

and other fun additions

lettuce in mulch

Four decades of Growing Good Food in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
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Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

Salads are a mainstay of our homestead lunches -- in fact, they are our homestead lunches! But a salad to us is much more than just a bowl of lettuce. In the short days of winter we may not have any lettuce at all in our salad. Really, just about anything goes in that would please us. But it all begins in the garden...

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Succession Planting

I remember my early days of reading about gardening, and the plans I made for multiple plantings of vegetables, just like in the books. It was such an intriguing idea. Plant an early crop, harvest it, plant a different crop, harvest it, plant again, etc. It didn't take me long to realize those ideas and designs were for those with longer growing seasons. For most crops it was enough to be able to get one planting to mature in my short season garden, and that was OK.

Sierra lettuce matureBut even we can successfully succession plant some crops. The big winners for me are lettuce and spinach. I plant lettuce in March (inside), April, May and June in the garden. The last one being a summer lettuce (my favorite right now is Sierra - photo at right), the earlier ones (and later plantings) Red Tinged Winter. I experiment with other lettuces, there are so many options, but always come back to these two. As the new crop matures the previous one is pulled and the area mulched or planted with something else. In August and September I'm planting again for fall eating and to transplant to the greenhouse for winter. In October seed is planted in the greenhouse for late winter/early spring. Lettuce is pretty much a year round crop for me. In the garden the plants are 12" apart; in the greenhouse they are grown closer and smaller in flats.

young spinachSpinach is similar, planted rather close to begin, thinned (and eaten) as they grow to finally be about 8" apart. I used to plant them in a block but found they grew much better, bigger, and bolted later when planted in single rows along the outside edges of the plots. The first spinach is planted in a cold frame as soon as the snow is gone, then about every two weeks through June, skip July, again in August and September, heading then into the greenhouse for winter. I've found the greenhouse spinach grows much better in the bed than it does inspinach mature flats. Each planting is eaten until it starts to bolt then the best leaves dried for winter soups. Every year is different depending on the weather, and greenhouse conditions, but in the best years we can eat fresh spinach almost all year. Mostly it is in cooked meals but also fresh in salads.

I sometimes experiment with newer spinach varieties but my mainstay is an old semi-savoy, moderate green, reliable variety named Victoria. The seed came from a Seed Saver Exchange member many years ago and I've saved my own seed since (spinach is an easy crop to grow and save seed from). I usually also grow the darker Winter Bloomsdale. I like the thicker "regular" spinach in the greenhouse but the lighter Victoria is more reliable.

It's so nice to have crops that are easy to grow, great to eat, and for the most part very reliable. These are by far my main and most important "greens"

April 29, 2021 -- Early Harvests

This is the time of the year that a few humble plants get a lot of attention from me. As the winter crops in the greenhouse fade or are eaten away I'm anxious for fresh outside greens. It is early yet for most garden plants, temperatures below freezing still common, so I doubly appreciate these hardy souls. Besides being welcome edibles these plants are also easy, independent, and reliable. And they don't need to be planted each year, or at all, by me. They do just fine on their own. 

The one I make the most use of, both now and again in the late fall, is Garden Sorrel, a tasty leafy edible perennial.

Garden Sorrel in April

It's a sour (oxalic acid) leaf, though I guess lemony or zesty might sound better, and is appreciated for extra salad greens. It adds a bit of zing and is good mixed with milder lettuce, which is often in short supply right now. It works as a cooked green, too, though I don't use it that way very often. It is very similar in taste to wild Sorrel (which we have in plentiful supply) but much larger leaves and so much easier and more convenient to harvest. Right now the leaves are small since they've just started growing, and this human keeps picking them, but it won't be long before they are 4-6" and well outpacing my harvests. They thrive in a garden plot but a few years ago I dug a clump into the orchard "lawn" between an apple and a gooseberry and it is growing just fine there, companioning well with the grass. 

Garden Sorrel in grass

Some years there is Spinach in the garden that has overwintered well without being eaten by someone other than me. This year I have two plants which survived and are re-growing nicely, the fresh leaves appreciated. But they don't go far, and it's hard to decide whether to use them in luncheon salad or in dinner. There is still dried spinach to use but right now I'm looking for fresh, so I turn to other growing green things. While other crops may be in short supply, there is one we have in abundance -- Leeks! They don't take the place of spinach but they do add a nice mild flavor to a meal and I often harvest a half dozen or so leaves to add to what else I have. Though the south and east woods are carpeted with leeks we didn't used to have many near the house. But I transplanted a couple clumps under the wild apple near the shop and they apparently love the site, spreading and providing easy harvest. There are also clumps growing here and there, wild-planted. I don't make use of the bulbs though they certainly are edible. They're a little small, fussy and pungent for my taste. Onion are easier. But when the stored onions run out and the new ones not ready yet, then leeks are a readily available option.

wild leeks under apple tree

Chives are pervasive, some might say invasive, on our homestead and literally on our home since we planted it there when we first buried the roof and it has thrived ever since. Actually, it thrives about anywhere. I long ago stopped growing it in the garden and let it grow wherever it wants. Though the young chives are a bit thin yet they are already giving our salads a bit more green and a light chivy flavor. And it won't be long before they will also be providing beautiful lavender flowers. What a cheery plant.


We have plenty of dandelions and there are always some nice plants in the garden, in spite of the trowel-wielding-gardener. I occasionally cut up some leaves to add to dinner greens, probably more because it seems like one should than because they add much. But mostly I leave them to flower for the bees. One has to admire their hardy tenacity though. I like having them around.

dandelion in garden in April

Long ago I planted some Johnny Jump Ups in my garden, not realizing how prolifically self seeding they are. Decades later they still pop up to be, mostly, weeded out. But I let some go. They're so persistently cheerful. They are flowering already, before even the dandelions. Though I seldom pick the flowers for our own salads I've added them as a colorful garnish to a potluck dish. But I do dry some for my mixed herb tea. They're quite mild flavored but they add a nice color touch, especially mixed with white and yellow chamomile flowers. Mostly I share them with the bees and just enjoy their easy flowering.

 Johnny Jump Ups in the garden

Now rhubarb isn't destined for the lunch salad, or dinner, and the stalks aren't near large enough to harvest yet, but it won't be long. And spring is when we really enjoy that flavor, cooked with (plenty of) brown sugar or maple syrup and mixed with last fall's canned applesauce -- mmmm, I can taste it already! It's fresh and tart and juicy, and at least a few bites of the raw stalk is a necessary spring ritual. Rhubarb is also about the very first edible that starts growing when the snow has receded, then I know Spring is coming.

rhubarb in April

Oh yes, LilliB reminds me, I almost forgot a most important one. Generally the fenced garden is of no particular interest to her, but this time of year she often leads me to the gate when she is out and about and I start heading that way. There are rituals to follow. We go in and head straight for ... the Catnip, of course. Well, a bird or bug, or something might distract for a few moments, but the destination is pre-determined. Being scritched and rubbed and petted while munching a Catnip snack -- ahhhh, life is good. This is her kind of salad. Then off she goes to check out all the other so interesting spots that the garden and orchard has to offer. But when I leave, she leaves. It's time to go back to the shop and harass the chipmunk.

LilliB in garden  catnip in April

Summer Lettuce - July 24, 2017

varieties of lettuce in summer gardenSummer is the time we appreciate crisp fresh lettuce from the garden the most. But the heat that makes summer what it is (well, most years) isn't conducive to crispness in the lettuce patch, so I've been searching for varieties that suit our salad bowl in the heat as well as the cool. My favorite thus far has been Sierra, a green/red wavy firm crisp leaf lettuce. It's my 'go-to' lettuce from spring to frost and it never goes whimpy on me no matter the weather, except for frost. It doesn't like frost.  But I like it enough to cover it for those first fall frosts, until it gets really cold. It's the lettuce top and bottom in the photo. The dark burgundy in the center isn't particularly crisp but it's so pretty and frilly I grow it simply for the added color in our salads. It's a nice enough lettuce called Revolution. The other, between the Sierra and Revolution in the photo, is Green Ice. It is quite frilly and nicely garden crisp, fine textured, hardy, tasty, handles frosts and some freezes (in a cold frame) with true yooper grace. With this trio of fresh from the garden lettuces we are never without our luncheon crispy salad greenery.lettuce growing under corn

Since the hot July days are difficult for any salad I thought this year I'd help mine along by planting the July/August crop under the shade of the corn. Well, first of all, we aren't having a hot July this year, we're having a wet July (and June, and May, and who knows about August!) so heat hasn't been a big concern. Secondly, I don't think the lettuce cared that much about being helped. All three varieties, plus another, grew OK and looked good, but even though, or maybe because?, we aren't having real hot weather, the corn shaded lettuce just isn't nearly as sturdy or crisp as that grown out in the open in the full sun. Lesson learned. Don't over fuss!

Copyright Susan Robishaw

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.