Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summer Salads: Greens That Take the Heat

Despite this cool morning in Austin, it has been hot outside. Really, really unseasonably hot. Even without these unusually high temps and overly dry forecasts, it's about time for us to let go of the idea of fresh salad from the garden. Or is it???

Butter lettuce, mesclun, romain and the other 'cool season' salad greens are on their way out. I have several beautifully flowering (bolted) plants left in my garden to go to seed to save for next year and a small patch of 'Farmers Market Mix' is still almost edible. For the most part, however the salad greens are bitter and no longer tasty. Don't lose hope, there are salad greens for Summer!

In Central Texas we don't usually get to enjoy crisp garden salads in the hot Summer heat because the plants bolt to go to seed. This makes them bitter and not tasty. There are a few varieties of greens that can be used for salads all throughout the Summer, however. We've put some of these work horses in several of our clients' gardens and can't wait to see them explode with production. Malabar Spinach and New Zealand spinach are both heat tolerant greens that will climb or sprawl about and look as beautiful as they are tasty. The baby leaves can be eaten in fresh salads and the larger leaves and stems can be sauteed up.

Malabar comes in green or red stem and if allowed to flower, the red stem puts on magenta berries that are great for crushing up and war painting your white pets, or your own skin. I recommend clipping off the ends of the stems instead of trying to pick off individual leaves which takes FOREVER. This also encourages the long as heck vine to branch out and become a bit bushier and thus easier to manage. Plant Malabar Spinach somewhere where you have lots of room or want some pretty color. I recommend along a fence or up a wall trellis. Malabar Spinach will reseed easily, so plan on allowing it to replant itself year after year, or pull or transplant the volunteer baby spinaches next season to move them to a new location. This is a cute post by another sustainable living advocate about his adventure planting Malabar Spinach for the first time: Growing Groceries.

New Zealand Spinach does not climb, but it forms long, sprawly stalks that can fill a garden space attractively without getting as long or out of control as Malabar. One or two plants are all a family really needs, but spinach can be blanched and frozen, so why not grow the bejeebers out of it?

Fresh Summer salad greens may be limited in the heat, but it's nice to know we Texans have some options to facilitate the long awaited BLT or spinach/strawberry/feta salad.

Have you grown either of these Summer greens? How do you like them?

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