Leafy greens this time of year are hard. Which is a pity, because my foodie dreams are full of summer salads filled with leafy greens. But although (unusually) it is wet enough this year, that doesn’t change the fact that it is coming into the long days of summer.
If you are not having huge success, don’t get discouraged. It’s just that the season is against you – plants have their own evolutionary agenda and despite thousands of years of breeding, being turned into salad isn’t on it.
These long days are signalling that it is time to fruit and seed. Cherry tomatoes and chilis, cucumbers and zucchini and squash, beans and corn will all grow so happily that you will feel like a gardening geek.
But your leafy greens want to fruit and seed too which is not quite the idea. This silverbeet seedling got a bit stressed by being held a little too long in the shadehouse, and so decided just to skip the leaf-bearing stage and bolt, baby though it is.
OK, so I warned you. If you’re still keen, to plant leafy greens this time of year:
- Choose your variety carefully. Pick slow bolt and fast maturing varieties. Keep a diary so you remember which varieties work and which don’t.
- Raise your own seed. If you try to plant from bought punnets of seedlings, the stress and root damage from being separated and transplanted is likely to be enough to cause a bolt.
- Transplant to a seedling raising mix early, at the two leaf stage, when you can do so with minimum root damage.
- Grow your seedlings as fast as you can in the most gourmet seedling raising mix you can muster. I use a mix of 1/3 good mature compost, 1/3 worm castings and 1/3 creek sand for drainage, and I feed them with seaweed brew as well.
- Plant them out into a sheltered, lightly shaded, nitrogen rich spot in the garden. I give them another double handful of compost at planting out.
- Plant a few at a time in succession – they won’t sit there waiting for harvest the way that winter greens will. You will need to harvest as soon as they are mature, and have another round coming on.
I’m trying to limit myself to amaranth, sweet basil, lime basil, aragula (perennial rocket), rocket, purple oakleaf and green mignionette lettuces, and that’s about it for this round, but I have to admit, it is taking some self-discipline!