For about a month-and-a-half, I’ve been staring at my burned-up flower bed out front, a board-certified cemetery for parched petunias, crispy coleus, and immolated impatiens. What should I do with it now that autumn is almost here? Use it for burning garbage?
Well, that may be OK in the trailer park where you live, but here in lovely Shangri-La Low-Tornado Mobile Home Estates, Judy and I take pride in our yard.That’s why instead of setting fire to plastic milk jugs and old cans of paint thinner, I’ve decided to plant a fall vegetable garden.
I don’t have a whole lot of space — about 20 feet long and 6 feet wide. So I need veggies that give maximum return for the ground they take up. I also want something that’s easy to grow, comes up quick, lasts long into the fall, and pleases my sophisticated palate.
That means one thing. I’m planting salad greens. The ones I’ve planted so far are a mesclun mix, gourmet lettuce mix, arugula, and ‘Bloomsdale Long-Standing’ spinach. I also threw out some radish seed, just for kicks. It’s been warm here (cooling off at night, thank God), and the mesclun, lettuce, and radishes are up in less than a week. I’m counting on warm weather to get them going and cooler weather in the months ahead to make them crisp and sweet. Once the seedlings get a couple sets of leaves, their first meal will consist of a liquid organic, slow-release fertilizer. Should slugs and snails threaten, I’ll counter with iron phosphate, which, unlike most slug baits, is labeled for use around vegetables.
Now some of you are undoubtedly upset with Grumpy for growing mesclun in the middle of such a nice trailer park and considering calling the cops. Before you do, turn off the Jimi Hendrix and your lava lamp and listen. You’re confusing mesclun with mescaline (a hallucinatory chemical contained in a Mexican cactus). Mesclun is a mixture of savory salad greens, such as rocket, radicchio, endive, escarole, and mustard. A bag of this stuff in the grocery store costs a fortune — probably as much as mescaline (although Grumpy has no idea!), which is a good reason to grow it yourself.
Some folks like to sow salad greens in a solid block. I prefer to do it in rows, because I’ve slanted the rows to make them look artsy. Spinach seeds are pretty big, but the seeds of lettuce and some other greens are tiny. If you want them to come up, just barely cover them with soil. I dug a shallow furrow for each row, sprinkled in the seeds, and then sprinkled a couple of handfuls of potting soil over each furrow and gently watered. It worked.
Seedlings will come up crowded in some spots and lonely in others. At some point, you’re going to have to thin plants to several inches apart, but with salad greens, nothing goes wasted. Throw the thinnings right into the salad bowl and enjoy.
If Grumpy’s salad garden performs well this fall, Grumpy will let you know about it. If it doesn’t, he will remain silent and sullenly burn some garbage.