We continue our discussion of cool-season vegetable crops today with a look at growing carrots and salad greens.
Homegrown carrots tend to be sweeter and crispier than the ones we buy in grocery stores. They also can be stored through the fall and winter. For these reasons, I grow them every year.
Carrot seeds can be sown directly in the garden right now. The frustrating thing about growing them, however, is that they can have poor germination rates.
I’ve found that if the soil develops a crusty surface, it’s difficult for the delicate little seedlings to push through it. In the past, I’ve sown the seeds on the surface of the soil and covered them with peat moss to make it easier for them to grow.
I’ve recently learned a better way to do this from fellow Master Gardener Rhonda Elliott:
“Sow the seeds and cover them with soil as usual,” she said. “Water them in and then lay a board on top. I usually leave it in place for about a week and then remove it. The board keeps the soil and the seed moist, which improves germination, shortens the germination time and keeps the soil from getting crusty.”
Elliott also stresses the importance of having fresh seed. “Carrot seeds lose viability quickly so if I have older packages of seed, I plant them thickly to increase the number of seedlings.”
Once the plants are about 3 inches tall, thin them so they are 2 inches apart. This is a tedious job but you will be rewarded with big, healthy carrots later.
I used to plant a large block of seeds which was a nightmare to thin. Now I plant carrots in rows that are about 4 inches apart, so I only have to thin within each row.
I avoid putting manure in my carrot beds as this can cause the roots to split and fork. Because they are a root crop, they need fertilizers that are high in potassium and phosphorus and low in nitrogen.
Reliable varieties are Nantes, Chantenay and Danvers.
Salad greens are another crop that I couldn’t imagine going without. They are very easy to grow and can be planted in the garden now.
I always plant several different varieties because they look so pretty in a salad. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t plant all of your greens at once because you won’t be able to keep up with them.
Instead, try the method known as succession planting. This will provide you with a continuous supply of lettuce through the growing season. To do this, plant seeds every couple of weeks so they will mature at different times.
When sowing the seeds, plant them shallowly since they need light to germinate. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged, and thin the plants to about 6 inches apart. This provides more air flow to reduce leaf rot.
Whenever I pick lettuce, I use the “cut and come again” method of harvesting leaves rather than whole plants. That way, they will continue to produce leaves.
Once the hot weather arrives this summer, some types of lettuce will bolt – go to seed – and have bitter leaves. Varieties that are more heat-resistant include Romaine and head-forming lettuces instead of leaf lettuces.
Some of my favorite varieties are Red Sails, Oakleaf, Mesclun mix, Speckled, Sea of Red and Butterhead. It’s also fun to use baby beet, spinach or chard leaves in salads.
Like carrots, lettuce seeds are not viable for very long so be sure to use fresh seeds for better germination rates.