It used to be salad was made of lettuce and, maybe, spinach greens. Then Americans discovered mesclun mixes. I remember first eating a mesclun mix salad and being amazed at the flavors, colors, and textures. Mesclun mix is a European invention. Gardeners there would traditionally gather wild and cultivated greens and herbs and mix them together in a salad with a home made dressing. (My European
friends scoff at our bottled dressings). By mixing various greens you can create a number of different colorful and flavorful salads. Some mixes are mild and mostly lettuce based, while others feature greens such as arugula, mustard and endive, and have a strong, spicy flavor.
You can certainly grow a host of greens, pick the leaves when young and make your own blends or buy some blends growers have created. Since the greens are harvested when very young, growing mesclun mixes is a no brainer. Seed, water and harvest. What could be easier?
When to Plant
Most of the greens in mesclun mixes are cool weather loving, so sow seeds 3 weeks before your last frost date — April and May. Continue sowing seeds every few weeks until early summer. Sow another crop in late summer for an autumn harvest.
Where to Plant
Mesclun mixes are quick growing greens that are harvested young. Plant them in containers, raised beds, or among slower growing vegetables such as tomatoes and broccoli for a quick crop before these other vegetables shade them out. These greens also only need 2 to 3 hours of direct sun a day to produce, so they work great in small yards and containers.
How to Plant
Build raised beds 8 inches tall and 3-feet wide. Amend the soil with compost and broadcast seeds, one-half inch apart, across the top of the beds. The seeds are small, so cover them lightly with potting soil or sand. Water and lay a floating row cover over the bed until the seeds germinate. The row cover will keep the bed moist.
Care and Maintenance
Since mesclun mix mature in less than one month and the seeds are grown so close together, weeding usually isn’t necessary. Only fertilize with fish emulsion if the greens appear yellow. Keep the beds evenly moist and control pests, such as aphids and flea beetles. Spray insecticidal soap to control aphids and use the floating row cover to stop flea beetle damage.
Start harvesting your mesclun greens when they’re 4- to 6-inches long. This can be as soon as 2 weeks after planting! Cut the greens with a scissors to one inch off the ground. Water and fertilize the cut greens with fish emulsion and they will regrow for a second harvest. Only harvest as much as you’ll need for a meal because mesclun greens don’t last long in the refrigerator.
There are many greens mixes on the market, some are advertised as mesclun mix, while others are called greens or salad mix. They all are a blend of various greens. ‘Provencal’ mesclun mix features arugula, lettuce, endive and herbs for a mildly piquant flavor. ‘Tangy ‘ mesclun mix has stronger flavored mustards, arugula and endive to add a zip to salads. ‘Mild’ mesclun mix features lettuce, mizuna, and kale and has a quieter flavor. ‘Micro Greens’ mix features mild flavored greens, such as chard, beets, kale, and spinach, picked at the seedling stage when leaves are only a few inches long.
Text excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.