JSS Advantage Newsletter, May 2012 Greens to Match Your Market
The word "greens" includes many leafy green plants (and a few that are gold and purple). They are vitamin-rich and important in many cuisines around the world. Many types are best grown in the cool weather of spring and fall, and in the winter hoophouse, but there are others that can be planted and harvested throughout the summer.
The key to success with greens is to match your production to your market, then educate customers to increase sales. Here are three approaches to growing greens, based on local market conditions and some tips for creating your own salad program:
Arugula: The Perfect Introductory Green
If you sell in an area where lettuce is the most exotic green, begin your greens program by offering arugula. This spicy/peppery green is popular throughout the United States and is increasingly available in supermarkets, either alone or as part of a salad mix. The flavor gets stronger as leaves increase in size.
There are two types of arugula, the salad type and the wild type. The salad type has broad leaves, a vigorous growth rate, and is ready for harvest in 21 to 40 days from direct seeding. It can be sold in the baby leaf stage as a salad green or grown to maturity for bunching. The wild type, Sylvetta, typically has narrow, lobed leaves and a slower growth rate, requiring 50 days to harvest. It is more pungent and therefore more suitable for mixing with other greens in a salad mix.
Arugula should be direct seeded, then covered immediately with lightweight row cover to exclude flea beetles which can destroy a crop in a day or two. Cross sell arugula with cherry tomatoes as a summer salad idea, or suggest that it be dressed simply with olive oil, salt, and good-quality Parmesan cheese. Arugula should not be cooked, but it is often wilted by adding it just before serving to pizza, pasta, and omelets.
Step Up Your Greens Offerings
If you sell in an area where arugula is familiar and lettuce is old news, incorporate Asian greens and mache. Asian greens add color, flavor, and weight to salad mix. Combine with arugula, lettuce, chicory, and herbs such as parsley or basil for mesclun mix. Grown to full size, Asian greens work well in stir fry. Cross sell with carrots, cilantro, peppers, and onions as a stir-fry starter.
Mache is a cool weather crop that is very popular in Europe and gaining enthusiasts in the U.S. It thrives in the late fall, winter, and early spring. In mild areas, it may be field grown and harvested throughout the winter. In northern areas it grows well in a hoophouse or caterpillar tunnel.