We had a tremendous summer garden this year and we ate our fill of zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil. As the days shorten and the nights turn chilly, we find ourselves losing interest in the flavors of summer and instead craving a crisp green salad. Luckily, this is the perfect time to grow lettuce, arugula, escarole, and other salad greens.
Our go-to system for fall salads is to plant one of the misticanza selections from Franchi. The seed packets are huge -- every packet has enough seeds to plant a week’s worth of salad many times over, both spring and fall. The multiple varieties in most of our misticanzas virtually ensure that something will do well in the current conditions of temperature and sunshine. For example, Misticanza Quattro Stagioni has lettuce, endive, chicory, and arugula -- a diverse selection that will carry you through the warm weather of early autumn (lettuce) into the cold weather of early winter (arugula).
The basic misticanza strategy is to direct seed densely in a 2-3 inch wide band, cover lightly with fine soil, tamp it down, and keep moist until germination. As soon as the plants are 3-4 inches tall, they can be cut with scissors for salads. This is the easiest, quickest way imaginable to get a fresh salad.
We like to prolong the harvest by pulling up a few of the seedlings and planting them in a new place where they can grow to their mature size. In a mix with lettuce, for example, we will delicately pull out the best looking lettuce seedlings and transplant them into a new bed, a foot apart, so they can become big heads of lettuce.
In fall, everything grows much more slowly than in spring, so this strategy works only if you can protect your lettuce from hard freezes. We keep a flannel Easy Tunnel or piece of row cover at the ready to cover vulnerable crops from early frosts. Usually the weather warms back up and we’ll get a couple more weeks of good growing weather before the cold comes to stay.
Pictured: Misticanza Duet da Taglio