There’s something refreshing about spring, isn’t there? The cool, crisp dewy mornings, easing into warm, comfortable days and ending in mild, lengthening evenings. It’s this type of day that’s ideal for sowing leafy greens to pick for your first young, tender and crisp salads of the season.
‘Leafy’ greens come in all shapes, colours, sizes and in particular, tastes and flavours!
Have you ever wondered what exactly is in the leafy ‘mesclun’ or similar ‘Provencal’ mixes seen on supermarkets and greengrocers’ shelves? In many cases, what’s in the (plastic) bag bears little resemblance to the true mixes from which they have supposedly originated.
This spring, why not plant a true mesclun or Provencal mix in your vegie patch? The word “mesclun” (incidentally ‘Provencal’ mix is identical) is derived from the Catalan word mescler (literal translation ‘to mix’) originating from the Provence region of France.
Firstly, what’s in a traditional mesclun salad? In many cases, it tends to be whatever sprouts firstly in a spring vegie garden! In reality, mesclun comprises a complex quartet of flavoursome young leaves from the following plants: chervil, roquette (rocket), lettuce and endive (sometimes called Frisee lettuce). From that base, many other mixes are created by adding the crisp, young leaves from a range of edible favourites, including spinach, beetroot, mizuna, chard, tatsoi, and a large selection of lettuce leaves from varieties such as Tango, Mâche (lamb’s lettuce), red and green oakleaf, and red and green Romaine.
It’s best to begin preparing your vegie bed a few weeks before sowing your mesclun mix seed with a light cultivation and incorporation of a soil conditioner such as Searles Florigro Soil Activator, or Premium Compost Mix. The addition of Searles Kickalong Organic Vegetable & Herb Fertiliser will ensure healthy seedlings emerge soon after germination.
Seed sowing a mesclun mix can be quick and easy. Pick a sunny spot in the vegie garden. Simply broadcast the mixed seed randomly over the prepared bed, rake lightly with a steel rake, and tamp down with the flat side of the rake afterwards. Water lightly to moisten the soil, not too heavily, as you can wash the seed from the soil. Gardeners who prefer neat rows of plants may wish to plant into shallow, straight furrows. Either way, there’s really no need to thin any closely planted seeds as you’ll be harvesting young leaves before the plants reach full size.
If you want to mulch your vegie bed, it’s probably best to wait until your seedlings have emerged so that they aren’t covered and restricted from emerging by the mulch material. Finely chopped lucerne is recommended as it’s easy to apply and eventually provides essential nitrogen and other nutrients as it decomposes.
Keep an eye out for hungry snails and slugs, as they’ll be pretty well starved after the cooler winter days. If needed, spread Searles Snail and Slug Pellets thinly at the rate of 5g per square metre. If the previous winter has been long and dry, birds such as pesky sparrows will see the soft, green leaves in your garden and cause general havoc by eating your precious plants to the ground. Exclude birds, and even roaming cabbage white butterflies, by covering your leafy greens with 30% white shadecloth draped over plant stakes until harvest. Not only will it prevent your crop being eaten, if the spring days turn terribly hot, your tender young plants will not be burnt by the suns’ rays!
It’s vital that adequate nutrition is available for rapid growth of your mesclun greens. Slow growth and hungry plants will produce bitter-tasting greens all round, something to be avoided at all costs. Once seedlings emerge, fertilise immediately with Searles Flourish Vegetable and Tomato Soluble Plant Food and then every 10-14 days afterwards. For increased resistance to pest and disease attack, it’s also recommended to apply Searles Seamax Organic Fish & Kelp every fortnight.
For continuous production, sowing your leafy green mix every 7 to 10 days apart will ensure a steady supply.
Harvesting your mesclun mix is easy! Wait until the leaves are around 5-10cm in length and use scissors to simply snip them off around 2-3cm above soil level. This will leave enough of the growing crown for the plants to re-grow new leaves, for a cut-and-come-again garden! If you wish, you can allow some plants to grow to full maturity for use in other salad mixes later in the season. Wash leaves in cold water immediately after harvesting, drain them on towels or lightly pat them dry, make your salad and enjoy the freshest, crispest, most mouth-watering salad greens you’ve ever tasted!
Growing leafy green in pots
Gardeners with limited growing space can easily raise mesclun mix, and any other leafy greens, in seedling trays, planting troughs or recycled Styrofoam boxes. Searles Herb & Vegetable Specialty Mix will be ideal for sowing your seed, as it contains both readily-available and controlled release fertilisers for up to 5 months of nutrition. It also holds adequate water for plump, juicy leaf growth as it contains peat moss, Searles Penetraide Rewetting Granules and water crystals. Ensure your planter is in a sunny, protected position for maximum growth.
Quick vinaigrette recipe
Enhance the individual flavours of your mesclun salad mix with this simple dressing.
Combine (whisk) 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl until mustard and sugar are dissolved.
Add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil slowly whilst whisking until emulsified.
Toss in about 8 cups of your freshly-harvested and washed mesclun mix and serve immediately! Enjoy!
Article author: Born and bred in Toowoomba, Mike Wells has turned a lifelong passion for plants and gardening into a career as a TAFE horticultural educator for the last 18 years. This passion for all things horticulture has also seen him contribute a widely-read weekly gardening article in the Toowoomba Chronicle since 2013.
Mike is in demand as a speaker for regional gardening clubs and interest groups and loves to help solve gardeners’ problems on ABC Southern Qld every second Saturday morning at 9am. He also operates a horticultural consultancy, Wellsley Horticulture, specialising in plant selection, soil improvement, efficient irrigation and garden design.