Growing, Storing & Cooking Leafy Greens
Tips On Leafy Green Vegetables
- What Are Leafy Greens?
- Why Grow Your Own Leafy Greens?
- Types Of Leafy Green Vegetables
- Common Planting Advice
- Harvesting and Storing The Greens
- Leafy Green Diseases
- Common Insect Pests
- Conclusion and Get Started
What Are Leafy Greens?
Leafy green vegetables are classified as those of which edible leaves form the primary structure of the plant. These vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard and collard greens and turnip greens, and also includes the many varieties of lettuce and the leafier members of the cabbage family.
Leafy greens have been eaten by humans – both raw and cooked - since the beginning of time and have consistently formed the basis for diets and regional cuisines throughout the world. As diets and technology evolved, many of the courser varieties were hybridized to foster tenderness and modulate flavor and create the versions of the leafy green vegetables we enjoy today.
Why Grow Your Own Leafy Greens?
Growing your own leafy greens is a great idea for a number of reasons. First, as with any home-grown vegetable, there's the control you maintain over the entire process, from seed acquisition to harvest. This ensures that you get the variety, quality and regionally appropriate type of plants you desire, and allows you to make choices about the use of chemical or organic-compliant treatments to control pests and disease.
With leafy greens, you'll also see money savings. With those greens that don't come to a head, you'll get ongoing production of leaves rather than a single harvest, allowing you to snip what you need from the garden for a recipe rather than investing in an entire head or bunch of supermarket greens, where any excess might go bad before you can use it all.
Finally, there's the nutritional value of leafy greens. With the exception of a neutral variety such as iceberg lettuce, many leafy greens come packed with valuable nutrients and are a welcome (and often recommended) addition to a healthy diet.
Types Of Leafy Green Vegetables
"Leafy greens" is in fact a pretty generic term for a wide variety of vegetables. Depending on how you're planning to grow, store and cook them, here are a number of factors about each to consider.
Cabbage, with its leafy exterior and dense, compact central "head," and can be prepared in a number of ways. Chopped raw cabbage is used for coleslaw, while cooked versions exist as a side dish in many cultures. What we know as sauerkraut is pickled cabbage. Radicchio, or red cabbage, is usually seen in the United States as a salad ingredient.
While having a general relationship to cabbage, kale, mustard greens and collard greens very much stand on their own. Cooked kale has become the go-to leafy green on the restaurant scene in recent years, showing up on menus across the country. Kale, mustard and collards all are best harvested after a frost, which tempers their bitterness. All three are part of many ethnic and regional cooking traditions, with mustard and collard greens maintaining ongoing popularity in the South. Just keep in mind that because the density of all of these varieties reduces significantly during cooking, you'll need to harvest quite a bit to provide enough as a side dish for a family of four.
Of the other varieties that fall under "leafy greens," lettuces are the most abundant. Iceberg lettuce, while short on flavor, remains a popular choice for gardeners. More complex varieties include arugula, butterhead lettuce, chard, chicory, escarole, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce and romaine.
Finally, spinach is a tried and true member of the leafy greens club, offering both high nutritional value and versatility in the kitchen. Fresh spinach translates well as part of a salad (holding up in storage far longer than lettuces), as well as sautéed or as an ingredient in other dishes. Also, the same quantity considerations for kale, mustard greens and collard greens hold true for spinach – you'll need a lot to feed a few.
Common Planting Advice
Planting leafy greens is exceptionally easy and for many variety results in both an ongoing harvest, as well as the opportunity for a second planting.
Start by germinating your seeds by soaking them in distilled water for a few hours before you plant them. The typical rule of thumb for outdoor planting of leafy green seeds is to plant them twice as deep as they are wide. Allow for space between plants when they reach their mature size so they don't crowd each other out.
If planting in early spring, start as soon as the ground has thawed and is easy to work. This will also get you started on a two-harvest season, since by the time your first planting peters out in late summer, the conditions then will be favorable to plant again for a winter harvest.
Whatever time you're considering planting, you'll get the best results if you can count on eight hours of sunshine a day.
Once your plants come up and start to leaf out, it's most efficient to clip leaves from plants like kale, collards, mustard greens and spinach as you need them. This keeps the plant intact and allows for continued growth. Cabbage and radicchio, meanwhile, should be harvested by the whole head.
Harvesting and Storing The Greens
Once they're out of the garden, compact plants like cabbage and radicchio tend to hold up well. But because of their high moisture content and delicate leaves, storing other leafy greens in the refrigerator can sometimes turn into a slimy mess within just a few days. If you've harvested leaves and aren't planning to use them right away, first wash them in cold water, pat dry and wrap them in paper towels. Put the wrapped bundle in a plastic grocery bag and store in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
If you're putting up greens (other than lettuce) in the freezer to use later in cooked dishes, blanch them first by plunging the leaves into boiling, salted water (about a tablespoon of salt per 2 or 3 cups of water) for about a minute. Pull them out, then quickly dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking process. The cooled leaves can be wrapped in a paper towel and stored intact or chopped. Either way, place them in a zip-top freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as possible to avoid freezer burn.
Leafy Greens Diseases
Disease is a particularly important consideration when growing leafy greens because – as their name indicates – the delicate leaves are the part of the vegetable you'll most likely want to eat. Keep an eye out for any of these Common Diseases Affecting Your Leafy Vegetables, such as Downy Mildew and Alternaria Leaf Spots.
You can address all of these disease issues with Safer® Brand Garden Fungicide from Avant Garden Décor.
Common Insect Pests
The delicate, edible leaves of leafy green vegetables, as one might imagine, are particularly susceptible to damage from insects such as Beet Armyworm and Cabbage Looper Moths. Keep an eye out for these Common Leafy Greens Pests.
If you spot any of these pests infesting your leafy greens, a great way to put a stop to them is by using Safer® Brand End ALL™ Insect Killer, which works on both hard- and soft-bodied insect pests.
Adding a crop of leafy greens to your garden is a great way to provide an ongoing crop of healthy and easily prepared vegetables for you and your family. Best of all, you'll save money, reduce waste and help boost your nutritional intake with just a few relatively easy-to-grow varieties.
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