As part of our on going effort to never buy lettuce from the store again. We are really making an effort to have salad crops at non traditional times of the year. Growing early season salad greens is an easy process if you have a little added weather protection!
You can read about growing summer lettuce here. And you can learn about growing lettuce in the fall and winter here.
This post on growing early season salad greens is meant for those of you living in Zones 4 to 6 (and maybe even 7).
Growing Early Season Salad Greens
Spring is the traditional time to grow lettuce. Lettuce loves that cool weather and it’s easy to grow lettuce in April, May and June. But did you know that you can have lettuce and other salad crops much earlier in the year by using one or both of these two easy methods for growing early season salad greens.
Over wintering in a cold frame
There is a long list of salad crops that can be planted in the late fall and then overwintered in a cold frame or hoop house. These overwintered crops will be ready to eat very early in the spring. Many as early as March 1st.
What crops over winter well?
Choose cold hardy varieties of lettuce, one of my favorites is winter density. Plant the lettuce seedlings a week or two before your first frost in the fall. They will still be tiny seedlings when the cold sets in. They will sit most of the winter but as the weather warms in the spring they will grow quickly and be ready very early. Growing these lettuces in a hoop house or cold frame is a must if you live in zone 6 or below!
Spinach is an fantastic plant to over winter. Plant this winter hardy veggie 4 to 8 weeks before your first frost in the fall. It will grow well in the fall and will even give you a good harvest all winter. Protected by a cold frame or mini hoop house, spinach will take off in the spring. Your harvest will last until early May.
Plant a little Swiss chard along with your spinach in the fall and protect it with a cold frame and you will have another great add in, for your late winter and early spring salads.
Not traditionally know as a salad green, kale is sweeter when overwintered and grows quickly in the early spring. You can plant 6 to 8 weeks before your first fall frost for larger plants. Or try planting late in the fall in tight plantings. You can then harvest smaller “baby” leaves all winter and into the spring.
Machè is not a very well known plant to many gardeners. But it is a must if you are interested in growing early season salad greens. It is super hardy and is one of the few plants that will continue to grow all winter. Plant it late in the fall and it will germinate and grow slowly through the winter and be ready for harvest in the early spring.
There are several other salad greens that over winter well these include Claytonia, beet and turnip greens.
Planting early indoors
Another solution for growing early season salad greens, is starting seedlings VERY early indoors and then transplanting them out into your cold frame.
I start my first lettuce seedlings on January 15th each year and move them out into the cold frame and hoop houses in late February and early March.
You can also start spinach, chard, and kale that early and transplant them outside with protection. Once out in the garden and inside the warmth of a hoop house these plants will thrive and give you many early season greens.
You will notice how often I spoke of protecting your plants with a cold frame or a hoop house. If you live in zone 6 or lower your only real hope of early season greens is if you have one of these handy garden structures.
Learn how to build a cold frame by reading this post.
Find a simple way to build an inexpensive hoop house by reading this post.
Learn even more about winter garden structures here.
I planted spinach, kale, and chard last fall and despite my neglect, it survived over the winter and is now thriving (I am in zone 6-7). Granted it was a mild winter overall, but still, we had enough nights in the teens I thought they wouldn’t make it. Of course, some varieties tolerate extreme cold better. Cold frame is the next project on my list, and I look forward to seeing what happens following your suggestions.