Easy, Fast-Growing Greens to Grow

Start a garden this year with this veteran gardener and plant breeder’s advice on what the best beginner, low-labor plants.

| February/March 2016

  • Green Wave Mustard
    Author Carol Deppe’s patch of ‘Green Wave’ mustard—the crop that helped her first discover the “eat-all greens” method—is ready for harvesting.
    Photo by Carol Deppe
  • Blocks of Greens
    For the low-labor eat-all-greens method, broadcast seeds thinly in blocks or wide rows so plants end up spaced about 2 to 4 inches apart. Harvest by clear-cutting.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • Green Varieties
    The seven greens varieties recommended in this article are especially high-yielding, and they make excellent cooking greens. You won’t have any problem eating up the hefty harvests when you cook your greens with bacon and garlic.
    Photo by Fotolia/monamakela.com
  • Shunkyo leaf radish
    Try planting some fast-growing ‘Shunkyo’ leaf radish, which yields edible roots, too.
    Photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds/johnnyseeds.com
  • Red Aztec
    ‘Red Aztec’ huauzontle, a Mexican heirloom, is a slower-bolting relative of quinoa that makes superb summer eat-all greens.
    Photo by Carol Deppe
  • Tokyo Bekana
    ‘Tokyo Bekana’ is a chartreuse-colored, loose-leaf Chinese cabbage that has a mild flavor, and is good as either a raw salad or cooking green.
    Photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds/johnnyseeds.com

  • Green Wave Mustard
  • Blocks of Greens
  • Green Varieties
  • Shunkyo leaf radish
  • Red Aztec
  • Tokyo Bekana

I discovered what I coined the “eat-all greens” garden method mostly by accident 20 years ago. At the time, I lived in downtown Corvallis, Oregon, and tended only two small garden beds. At one point, I ordered 2 cubic yards of compost. Having no vehicle in that era, I had the compost delivered and dumped onto my concrete driveway. While I stood there looking at that pile of compost, I realized that if I just spread it around on the driveway, I could double my gardening space.

The No-Labor Garden

I quickly spread the compost into a broad bed about 6 inches deep and broadcast ‘Green Wave’ mustard seed. Then, I did … absolutely nothing. No weeding. No thinning. After about two months, I harvested an unbelievable amount of greens. I had stumbled upon the perfect variety, planting time and planting density for my first eat-all-greens garden bed.

The ‘Green Wave’ mustard plants in my driveway bed were about 4 inches apart in all directions and about 14 inches tall. They were quite different from the bigger plants I usually grew with wider spacing. Given more room, the stems of ‘Green Wave’ become stringy, and the lower leaves grow tough and unpalatable. Harvesting in that scenario is a relatively time-consuming matter of picking individual prime leaves. But in my driveway bed, every part of the plant from about 4 inches above the soil line and up was tender and succulent, including the central stem. So, I clear-cut the entire patch at 4 inches high, knowing I could freeze some. The raw greens were blazingly hot, but after boiling for two minutes, their heat vanished and they became delicious, flavorful cooked greens.

Until this happy growing accident, I thought gardening required a certain amount of labor. But I’d discovered a new standard. I wanted to focus on these incredibly easy crops to grow, and just sow the seed and harvest. And by growing appropriate varieties in this manner, this epitome of gardening laziness is actually achievable, as well as quite delicious and rewarding.

The eat-all method is similar to the cut-and-come-again method. In both, you broadcast seed in beds and harvest plants by clear-cutting. In cut-and-come-again beds, however, you sow plants an inch or less apart in all directions and usually harvest by clear-cutting at 6 inches tall or shorter. The result is tender salad greens, but with low yields per cutting. In eat-all beds, plants are 2 to 4 inches apart in all directions, 1 to 2 feet high when harvested, and usually used as cooking greens.

7 Great Eat-All Greens

Over the subsequent two decades, I tested more than 200 varieties for use as eat-all greens. For many species, I found no variety that worked. For most species, only certain varieties worked. I discovered that all the good eat-all varieties are loose-leaf greens. They yield much more per unit of land and labor than any variety of head-style greens.

1/31/2016 4:49:33 PM

I lov this article, every year i change up what im planting and track yields to try and find the most effiecient use of my space. this year im determined to find a variety of corn that will grow outdoors in my area. please keep more articles like this one coming, it saves me from having to try out ever variety under the sun in my quest for an efficient homestead.



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