Get Growing with Greens
First published on garden.org on March 15, 2007, by Suzanne DeJohn
Few vegetables are as easy to grow, nutritious, and fast-maturing as salad greens. These reasons alone make them perfect for novice gardeners and a must for more seasoned growers. Last year's spinach scare over contaminated California produce is a distant memory to many, but it does underscore the inherent benefits of growing your own. However, there's another reason that might just tip the balance in favor of homegrown greens.
According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, http://www.ewg.org), spinach and lettuce are among the so-called Dirty Dozen -- the twelve fruits and vegetables that expose consumers to the most pesticide residue. The Dirty Dozen are peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. EWG recommends opting for organically grown when it comes to these produce items.
How did EWG come up with the ranking? They pored over the results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2004. Taking into consideration how people typically eat their produce (peeled banana vs. unpeeled apple), they created the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which informs consumers so they can make choices that lower pesticide exposure in their diets.
Growing Your Own
Start with Spinach
Preparing the Bed
A 3- to 4-foot-wide raised bed is ideal. Raised beds warm up quickly in spring, drain well, make efficient use of space, and allow you to harvest from both sides without stepping in the bed. Amend soil with lots of compost. If you use cow or horse manure in your compost, make sure the compost has aged for at least six months and preferably a year before using, just to be on the safe side. Work the compost into the top 8 inches of soil, then rake the seedbed flat and you're ready to sow.
You can sow more densely than suggested if you plan to harvest baby greens. Veteran gardeners who can distinguish weed from crop seedlings can simply broadcast seeds over the bed. Otherwise, sow in rows.
Wildly expensive in stores, baby greens are remarkably tender, succulent, and mild. You can begin harvesting greens when plants are 2 inches tall. Use clean scissors to cut the largest leaves, or shear the whole bed down to about an inch above the soil line. Spinach and most leaf lettuces are "cut and come again" crops, meaning they'll regrow as long as you haven't damaged their crowns -- the area just above the soil line where the leaves emerge. Some connoisseurs find baby spinach and leaf lettuce lacking in flavor and prefer to wait until the crops are a bit more mature. It's up to you.
Expand Your Palette
According to the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the 12 produce items with the least amount of pesticides are onions, avocados, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, frozen peas, kiwis, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papayas. But don't let that stop you from planting asparagus, corn, onions, and peas in your home garden. Homegrown will almost always top storebought.
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