After a long, cold winter of eating from the cold storage and the freezer, nothing tastes better than a fresh salad. Greens are my tonic, giving me energy and vitality. I eat salads lunch and dinner and throw greens into quesadillas, soups, eggs, and more.
I always plant an early crop of hearty greens. The beauty is that these greens can withstand freezing so you do not need to wait until the danger of frost has passed. This year due to the lack of snow I planted some greens on the south side of the house in March. The ground was still frozen underneath, but the hearty greens and the lettuce still came up. I also planted some greens in flats in the greenhouse which came up a little faster and were ready to eat sooner.
The busier my life gets, the more I appreciate plants that I don’t have to sow. I have several varieties of perennial greens as well as some self-seeding annuals. These are brilliant because they come up whenever they are ready. You don’t have to stress about planting them at the right time, or at all. They just take care of themselves. You probably already have some of these in your garden, and right now is the perfect time to plant the ones you don’t have.
1. Orach: Red, purple or green, orach is a relative of spinach and self-seeds readily in the garden. It has a very mild flavor and can be eaten fresh or cooked. The purple variety looks awesome in salads, and the green variety can be used as a straight-up substitute for spinach. I have a patch of both.
2. Lamb’s-quarters: A relative of orach, you most likely already have this green in your garden. Also known as goosefoot or fat hen, this green has been eaten since the time of hunter-gatherers. Although often discarded to the compost, it is high in phytonutrients, fights viruses and bacteria, and has been shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer.
2. Sorrel: Sorrel is a perennial that has a lemony flavor and can be used to add pizzaz to salads or cooked. It also self-seeds in the garden which can be useful since it does experience occasional die-back. Because it is perennial and has a lot of energy in the root, it is often one of the first greens to emerge in the spring.
4. Dandelion: Another perennial you almost surely already have, dandelion greens are at their best in the spring before they flower. Compared to spinach, dandelion greens have eight times more antioxidants, two times more calcium, three times more vitamin A, and five more times vitamin K and vitamin E. Iceberg lettuce has 1/40th the bionutrients as dandelions(Jo Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side). If you don’t like how bitter dandelion is (this is actually a sign of the phytonutrients) you can temper it with fat (avocado or olive oil) or honey.
5. Arugula: Another self-seeder, arugula is notoriously difficult to grow during Alaska summers because our long daylight hours encourage it to bolt. But you can get a few cuttings of it in the early spring. Arugula has a delicious peppery flavor and is full of glucosinates, cancer fighting compounds.
6. Good King Henry: Another spinach relative, GKH is a perennial and self-seeder that is a great multi-purpose plant. The shoots can be eaten as asparagus, the buds like broccoli, and the seeds like quinoa.
7. Asparagus: While not exactly a “green,” asparagus is a tasty perennial spring vegetable! Asparagus is on the edge of its zone here in Anchorage so put it in your warmest spot. We ate our first asparagus this year and it was well worth the 5 year wait!
8. Chives: Another delicious perennial, chives are up early in the spring and pep up salads, dips, eggs, soups, salmon and more. We threw some on the grill the other night and they were excellent.
We ate our first salad this year on May 3rd. With fresh garden greens every salad is different. I never get tired of enjoying the healthy and flavorful bounty from the garden. Plant now to enjoy your bounty this year and extra early next year!