Leafy green foods are some of the simplest vegetables to grow in your garden. These include lettuce, spinach, chard, kale and mustard greens. Most of these green foods grow during the cooler spring season, making them some of the first edibles to become available for the year. They also grow well in fall, or you can grow them in winter in mild climates that seldom experience long freezes.
Prepare the garden bed as soon as the soil thaws and dries out enough to work. Avoid working in overly muddy beds, since this compacts the soil and makes it difficult for leafy green foods to root well. Add a 1 inch layer of compost to the soil and work it into the top 6 inches of dirt. Most green foods don't require fertilization prior to planting. Beds that receive full sunlight in spring and remain moist without becoming soggy provide the best growing conditions for greens.
Sow the seeds directly in the garden bed. Plant most green foods seeds ¼ inch deep. Space the seeds according to the recommendation on the seed packet. For most greens, this is 6 inches apart, with the exception of looseleaf lettuce, which is spaced 2 inches apart. Place rows 12 inches apart so you can work between the plants easily. Seeds take between 7 and 14 days to sprout. Once they have sprouted, thin out the extra plants so the remaining plants are at the final spacing recommended on the seed packet. Alternatively, plant seedlings grown indoors into the garden bed.
Keep the bed well-weeded. A 2 inch layer of mulches keeps down weeds, insulates the soil and prevents the soil from drying too quickly. Apply the mulch after the leaf green foods are about 6 inches tall so they aren't smothered by the mulch. As an alternative, use a sheet of black plastic mulch. This mulch keeps the soil warmer and allows no weed growth, but the plants do require drip irrigation beneath the mulch to receive the necessary moisture.
Water and fertilize correctly. Most green foods require 1 inch of water per week from rain or irrigation. Feel the soil and only water when the top inch begins to feel dry, since in cooler, moister weather the soil will dry out more slowly than it does in summer gardens. Fertilize the green foods six weeks after they sprout. Use a nitrogen rich fertilizer blend, since leafy green foods primarily need nitrogen for healthy growth.
Harvest the green foods at the proper time. Leaf lettuce, spinach and mustard greens can be harvested at any time when the outer leaves are 6 inches long. Cut off only the outer leaves so the interior of the plant can continue producing an edible crop. Harvest head forming greens when the heads are fully formed and firm. Harvest all green foods before summer heat causes them to bolt and send up a seed stalk. The greens begin to decline and they develop a bitter taste after the plant has bolted.
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