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Unusual container gardens can be created from a colander and leafy green lettuce. Photo by Jano Nightingale
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Jano’s Garden: Spring greens

Spring is a time for transition, and this season comes early to Southern California.

When I lived in Upstate New York, in February we were pouring over seed catalogues and dreaming about spring, but here in North County we can begin our pilgrimage to the nurseries and garden centers right now!

DARE TO TRY SOMETHING NEW

On a recent visit to the Pine Street Community Garden in Carlsbad, some of the gardeners have started early. The garden beds are filled with kale, arugula, carrots and a wide variety of lettuce. Last year, I taught a gardening class at the Senior Center Garden at Pine Street and was pleased to meet a number of gardeners from Southeast Asia who had moved to California.

Since I, too, am fairly new to the area, we all learned from each other, and experimented with a wide variety of Asian vegetables. “We eat greens every day. They taste good, and they keep your digestive system clear,” commented Senior Garden student, Emilita Moll. Born in the Philippines, she shared her style of cooking which incorporates lots of vegetables. “We have a very healthy diet, and eat lots of greens, squash and root vegetables. I make Ginisa Gulay every week to use all the vegetables in my garden. But if you don’t have a garden, you can buy all the ingredients in the produce department.”

GINISA GULAY

Asian Greens (Emilita Moll)

This stir-fry dish can be served with rice, chicken, seafood or tofu.

Sauté two cloves chopped garlic and one large slice chopped fresh ginger in hot oil in heavy skillet or wok.

Select a variety of greens such as Bok Choy, Kale and Chinese Cabbage and wash well. Chop into small pieces, and fill the pan to the top. Add chopped vegetables to hot pan and cook until wilted. Add soy sauce to taste. Serve over rice.

A VISIT TO LOCAL NURSERIES

I often visit Anderson’s La Costa Nursery for the more unusual varieties of vegetable seedlings and their hardy selection never disappoints. According to Steven, one of the horticulturists at a La Costa, “At this time of year we still have a good variety of greens and lots of lettuce that have been started in the greenhouse. Soon, as the season changes we will have warm weather vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.” Anderson’s La Costa Nursery is located at 400 La Costa Blvd., in Encinitas, phone: (760) 753-3153.

Green Thumb Nursery in San Marcos also stocks a large number of hard-to-find vegetables and flowers and presently stocks Asian varieties of Bok Choi, Chinese cabbage and Baby Bok Choi, along with the seasonal broccoli, cauliflower and varieties of lettuce. They are located at 1019 W. San Marcos Blvd., San Marcos, and phone: (760) 744-3822.   

RARE AND UNUSUAL SEEDS

Some of the newer seed catalogues such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalogue feature many of the hard-to-find varieties that gardeners can start from seed.

Some are well suited to the Southern California climate, and I added Mizuna to my garden last year. According to the experts at Baker Creek, “This variety will remain tender, even after several harvests and will not readily go to seed. When growing any leafy green, the trick is to pick the outside leaves as often as possible, which stimulates continued growth.”

This catalogue also carries over 20 varieties of salad greens and lettuce. The leafy greens can be served cold as a salad or atop a noodle dish. The Mesclun Salad Mix is a colorful mix of lettuce, radicchio, arugula, kale and mustard. To receive a free catalogue, which includes in-depth instructions for planting and harvesting contact them at www.rareseeds.com.

COMPANION PLANTING

As I plant the seedlings I have purchased from the nurseries, I always bring to the garden my box of assorted seeds to add to the plot.

If you scrape back the soil in a circle around your seedlings, you can throw in radishes, carrots, beets and turnips.

These root vegetables will take at least one month to mature, so they will not compete with the seedlings. Be sure to water your seeds daily, and put up a few whirly-gigs to defer the birds.

If you plan your garden in this fashion, you will be utilizing space more efficiently and allowing the garden to prosper all spring and summer. 

PLANT GREENS IN CONTAINERS

On a recent visit a State Street garden located at The Stylist Studio, my gardening colleague, Chris Bany displayed a useful, but decorative idea for a front porch or patio garden. After purchasing a metal kitchen colander, he filled it with soil and added three different kinds of leaf lettuce. Of course, the choice of containers for your lettuce garden is endless – I have even seen an attractive display of a vegetable garden in an old boot!

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and the former Director of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program in Cooperstown, New York. She lives and gardens with her son in Vista, and works on community gardens in North County. She can be reached at [email protected].

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