Leafy greens are nutritious, unfussy performers in the garden

By: Gloria Young Home &?Garden
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Kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula, lettuce — they’re good for you and easy to grow Traditionally planted in the early fall for winter harvest, they’ll continue to produce as long as the ground stays sufficiently cool. Master gardener Celena Polena grows red Russian kale, lacinato (dinosaur) kale, dwarf blue curly kale, collards and arugula. “I grow kale all winter long and eat it daily,” she said in an email. Polena, an Auburn resident, uses it in a variety of dishes. “I eat it for breakfast,” she said. “It’s fabulous. I put in a huge handful — take out the stems, strip off the green parts, put it into the blender, put in an orange or whatever fruit I have and a little cranberry juice. Blend it all up and it’s better for you than spinach. It has lots of iron, tons of vitamin C and lots of nutrients.” She has high praise for mustard greens, too. “If you like wasabi, eat a mustard green leaf and it’s like eating wasabi but it doesn’t burn,” she said. “We quite often throw it into a stir fry or a frittata. It just gives it a little zing.” She grows the greens in raised beds and to extend the growing season, suggests adding “a good inch or two” of mulch. “It keeps the roots cool,” she said. “When the roots get hot, that’s when they’ll form seeds and flower.” Once that happens, the plants lose some of the flavor, although many are still edible. Unlike tomatoes and squash, greens can be replanted in the same spot and often will reseed. Polena keeps everything organic and makes sure the greens get sufficient water. Then she sits back and lets them thrive. “One year I planted a garden in a spot that I didn’t plan on planting it,” she said. “When I went back, I had forgotten I had put it in and it was a foot high.” In Newcastle, Kathryn MacRoberts maintains a large selection of leafy greens over the winter and keeps some — like arugula — under cultivation year-round. “I’ve been gardening and growing food all my life,” she said. “I love sharing with folks and encouraging them to grow their own food. That’s part of why I became a master gardener.” Her Roman kale and Russian kale are the “workhorses of the winter garden.” “I go in and just pull off leaves throughout the whole winter and they can go into anything — soups, stews, risottos, a side dish,” she said. “I use them as stuffing in ravioli and lasagna, and even in fried rice and stuff like that.” Arugula is one of MacRoberts’ go-to greens. “The arugula I have found I love because it is one that reseeds,” she said. “We eat the flowers off of it. They have a peppery flavor but also some sweetness. I use my arugula not just for salads — as a substitute for lettuce — but also in cooking. It cooks really well.” Often she’ll pick a mixture of greens from the garden and just mix them up into a dish. For summer greens, she suggests sweet potatoes. “You can eat the leaves off them,” she said. “It’s a good substitute for spinach.” Another leafy green that does well in the foothills is miner’s lettuce. “You find it growing under oak trees just in the wild,” she said. “...Those are great in salads instead of spinach.” When it’s time for fall planting she starts the seeds in flats. It makes it a lot easier to maintain constant temperature and moisture for the new seedlings before they go into the garden. MacRoberts volunteers at Skyridge Elementary School’s life lab garden. She’s serves on the board of directors of PlacerSustain, belongs to the Placer Local Food Alliance and runs her own local-food business, Garden Path. “I’m looking at doing workshops,” she said. “My goal is trying to get more people to grow more food. I’ve put in a lot of effort on what works and I want to share that.”