It was around this time of year when Caesar was betrayed by his best friend and protégé, Brutus. I don’t pretend to understand the inner workings of ancient Roman senate proceedings, but I do know all too well that stab-in-the-back feeling every March. You know what I am talking about.
The weather warms, the first glisten of sunshine before 7:00 AM, and that first robin sighting! It is all so exciting and you think, its time! It’s going to be SPRING! And then March shows up, and I mean really shows up and ruins everything by being, well, March. That one last winter storm mid-March is an annual betrayal that somehow always surprises me. They say “in like a lion, out like a lamb” that’s March, but I think we all know its more like, “in like a cute big-eyed red fox, but as it gets closer it rips apart and eats your designer toy poodle, and out like a satisfied no-longer-hungry just-as-wily fox.”
Okay, so maybe my metaphor is a bit extreme, but the month of March has always frustrated me. It’s cold, and snowy and it is supposed to usher in spring time but it takes so goddamned long to get through, and all I want to do is put some seeds into the ground. But because March is a lying, betraying frenemy, I know that those seeds must be strong and resistant to March’s bitter games and hold their own. The garden beds are (shockingly) completely snow-covered so I have a few weeks left to simmer and be antsy, but in the meantime let’s talk cold weather leafy greens! Here is my plan for late March plantings, once I see evidence that my garden beds still exist.
I am currently in love with Bloomsdale spinach, an heirloom variety from 1826 that is utterly delicious. Bloomsdale was once THE spinach that was grown in the US, but it does not hold up well during shipping, and was replaced with the current hybrid you see on the markets. It’s too bad really, because its flavor is tender and sweet and tastes fantastic fresh or cooked. It likes cool weather but is very slow to bolt (go to seed) so lasts longer though the season. It can be harvested from baby to full-grown age, and like most greens, can be continually harvested until it is spent, and for me that is when it heats up around late June. I have some seed left over from last year that I will probably use up this year. I can grow 9 plants per square foot, and I will start with 2 square feet of spinach this spring.
This Apollo arugula is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Technically, I think arugula gets classified as an herb, and it has an intense spicy flavor, which is fabulous with a little citrus and olive oil. I love it as a salad green or slightly wilted, and it packs quite a nutritional punch. This is a green that grows very fast and because it grows in cold weather, has very limited predators (other than the human kind). Arugula doesn’t take up much space, and can be easily grown in a pot. I can get 16 plants to one square foot, and will plant 2 feet this spring. That’s a lot of arugula! And it will go to good, delicious use.
Another fast growing staple of springtime is the garden pea. Well, there are many kinds of peas actually. There are the snow pea types (edible flat pods), snap varieties (edible pods with big fat peas, usually sweeter), and English peas or garden peas, which are grown for the starchy large peas and not the fibrous tough pods.
With my two garden beds, I have limited space for peas because they do require trellising so I am sticking to three varieties this year, to be split between spring and fall plantings. The great thing about peas is that they will produce as fast as you can keep them picked and I can put 8 plants in one square foot of garden space, which I will split between my spring picks:
Amish Snap – This is a very tasty snap pea, reportedly from the Amish community. The pods are large and edible. I prefer to eat the pods when they are young. Once the peas get large and the pods swell, the pods get tough. That’s when they are better as shelled peas. These get tall, about 6-7 feet high, so a decent sized trellis is needed.
Golden Sweet Peas – A new variety for my garden, these peas are lemony yellow in color and flat-podded. The description simply states: “collected from a Market in India. Rare and tasty.” I can get behind that! I will grow 4 plants with the Amish Snap peas and hope there is limited cross-pollination.
This is a new one for me this year and I am very excited about it. This variety is Très Fine Maraîchère and is a fast growing French frisee. Endive is related to chicory and radicchio, and not technically a lettuce as we know it, but it is used like lettuce and adds a nice bitterness (if you like that sorta thing) to the mix.
Lettuce is the quintessential spring veggie and so of course I must grow unmanageable quantities! Well, that is what I thought last year. I also learned that lettuce, if you don’t want baby mixes every day, takes some time. Baby lettuces are great but I really love a nice head of romaine and butter, so this spring I am limiting my lettuce plantings to save room for summer vegetable space. Fall time is when I will really hit the lettuce bandwagon and go crazy. Here is the plan for this spring:
Winter Density – I can get 4 of these into a square foot. Winter Density is kind of half-way between romaine and bibb. The leaves are crisp and refreshing, and the rich green outer leaves can be picked early on. This is a slow growing variety, and the heads get to a size just larger than a softball, which is the perfect amount for a two-person salad.
Mantilia – This was a big winner last year, and was specifically requested by CFO for the garden this year. Mantilia is a butterhead lettuce, pale creamy green, extremely tender and really special for a salad. The heads have large loose leaves that can be picked as needed and are great for stuffing or lettuce wraps, and the heads will keep producing more leaves for the picking. I will put 4 plants in a square foot this spring.
Paris Island Cos – This is a new romaine lettuce I got from a clearance bin last fall. The packet describes this as “large erect oval well-formed heads with dark green outer leaves and lighter green interior. It is a valuable green salad variety, crisp mildly bitter with endive-like flavor.” Sounds good to me. I will put 4 of these into a square foot space this spring.
Leaf lettuce – Once of my favorite seeds suppliers, Seed Savers Exchange, sells a mixed-seed packet of lettuces for cutting. This mix contains Australian Yellowleaf, Forellenschluss, Pablo, Red Velvet and “at least four more varieties.” So, basically I have no clue what lettuces these all are, but I spread the seeds around one square foot and start trimming when they get about 4” high and then I have fancy “organic spring mix” just like in the plastic tubs at the grocery store. Delicioso!
Prizehead Early – Another clearance item, this lettuce is a red/bronze color with frilly leaves. I plan to grow this as a leaf lettuce in another square foot space. I think it will add some fun to my salads this spring. Hopefully it’s a tasty one.
So there you have it, my planting list that is on hold pending decent weather. After the inevitable March betrayal, and once the snow melts, we can get the garden started with some frost-tolerant greens, which will be the first harvests of the spring and make for some great eats. I cannot wait to share some home grown kitchen fun with you all.