By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Mesclun greens are valued for their color, variety, nutritional punch, and mix of flavors. Salad mesclun is a mix comprised of the young, tender new leaves of several greens species. Often called spring mix, the leaves are rich in vitamins and their color and form add interest to a boring salad. The salad mix is an essential culinary ingredient for the keen home chef. Growing mesclun in the garden affords a healthful, convenient, and cost saving way to enjoy these greens.
Mesclun greens traditionally contain the small, young leaves of species such as endive, arugula, chervil, and leafy lettuces like baby red leaf. Today the notion of salad mixes has expanded to include many other varieties of greens and herbs. A mesclun mix may include such things as spinach, chard, frisee, mustard, dandelion greens, mizuna, mache, and radicchio among others. The huge variety in greens makes for a very interesting and wide palate pleaser.
The name “mesclun” comes from the word “mescal” from the Provencal or southern France dialects. The word means “to mix” or “mixture.” Mesclun mix is harvested when the baby greens are only three to four weeks old, small, soft, and tender. Older mesclun greens are used braised as a hot vegetable. Mesclun mixes may contain five to seven different varieties of greens and come with different flavor profiles such as spicy or bitter.
Mesclun can be purchased as a seed mix or you can get the different varieties of greens that you prefer and make your own mix. Mesclun mix is harvested young so it doesn’t need a lot of space and even does well in containers. Sow succession crops every two weeks in spring or summer.
These greens grow best in cooler temperatures and tend to bolt when summer heat amps up. Sprinkle the seeds and cover lightly with a scattering of soil. After germination thin the seedlings to a spacing of 1 inch (2.5 cm.) between each plant. Use the sprouts in salads so you aren’t wasting the seeds.
Salad mesclun is harvested with the “cut and come again” method. Cut the leaves you need for each meal and leave the rest. Harvest greens that are 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) long and snip them off 1 inch (2.5 cm.) above the soil line. In about a month the plant will be ready to harvest again. Some of the greens in meslun mix come back more thickly such as the baby lettuces.
The wide variety of greens and species for salads means it is up to you to decide what is mesclun. In addition to the plants already mentioned you can mix in purslane, cress, Asian greens, red kale, and chicory. Plant them with leafy herbs to harvest at the same time such as cilantro, parsley, and basil. The combinations and colors will make salad one of your favorite meals.
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I used to love those plastic cartons of spring greens that you can get at the grocery store. The baby lettuce leaves, spinach, and kale are triple washed and sold at a premium price. They are easy to use. Just dump into the salad bowl and add dressing. But with my family of 3, we usually waste half the carton, as we can’t seem to eat it before the leaves get slimy. In fact, sometimes the leaves are slimy when we bring it home from the store. Chock it up to living far from the distribution point. They are also pricey, so I only buy them in winter, when my garden is buried in snow and my micro-greens aren’t producing. Here we pay about $6 for 300 grams. But since about half is wasted that’s actually $6 for 150 grams. (Yikes!) I won’t even get into the ethics of organic produce packaged in plastic and trucked thousands of miles before it gets to my store.
But now you understand why I started growing microgreens.
Mesclun, literally meaning "mixture", is composed of a blend of small or young leaves chosen to complement each other. Originating in France, mesclun mix traditionally contained equal parts chervil, arugula, endive and lettuce. Today, a much broader range of greens are included in mesclun mixes to create a blend that is satisfying to both the eyes and the palate. Modern mixes can include arugula, lettuce, endive, mustard, parsley, fennel, cress, chicory, tatsoi, mizuna, mache, radicchio and other greens. Edible flower are also added sometimes to add an exotic touch, and plants can be mixed and matched and used to complement the meal or occasion.
well-drained, slightly acidic soil
Due to the variety of greens that can be included in a mesclun mix, growing recommendations may vary slightly. However, some general recommendations that should apply to most greens can be considered.
Most greens grows best in full sun, though excessive heat can cause plants to bolt to seed, or leaves to wilt. For an early start, seeds can be started in flats 4 weeks prior to the last frost and transplanted outdoors in mid to late spring. If growing in summer, select a partially shaded location, or one that receives primarily eastward exposure to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of excessive heat.
Many greens will tolerate of a wide range of soils, but will grow best well-drained, cool, loose, loamy soil with a pH between 6.5 to 6.8. Most are sensitive to low pH lime to at least 6.0. To encourage tender and tasty growth, make sure location is rich in organic compost matter. Amend prior to planting if needed.
Direct seed or transplant in early spring, as soon as you can work the soil. To get an early start, prepare beds the previous fall by working in manure or compost and raking smooth to leave a fine seedbed. Seeds need light to germinate sow at a very shallow depth by covering with a thin layer of growing medium.
When sowing, many types of seeds grown for baby greens are smaller, light dependant germinators and should only be covered with a light dusting of soil. Keep seeds warm and well-moistened while awaiting germination. Avoid using a garden hose, or similar watering technique that can displace seeds. The suggested sowing depth given below (1/8") applies to smaller seeds such as lettuce, for larger seeds sow slightly deeper. A good rule of thumb is to cover the seeds to twice their thickness when sowing.
Sow seed 1/8 inch deep, 1 inch apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. When plants have two or three true leaves, thin to 12-inch spacings for crisphead varieties, 6 to 10 inches for other types. You can also lightly broadcast seed (particularly of looseleaf varieties) in a patch instead of a row.
Sow in 1-inch cells 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting outside. Harden seedlings by reducing water and temperature for 3 days before transplanting. Hardened plants should survive 20 F. Space crisphead transplants 12 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Space other varieties 6 to 10 inches apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart.
Use row covers to protect very early plantings from cold, to protect young plants from insects, and (supported by hoops) to shade crops when warm weather arrives.
Make succession plantings every week or two, and grow several varieties with different maturity dates for a continuous supply. Moisture, stress, and high temperatures, particularly at night, encourage bolting. As the season progresses, plant more bolt-resistant varieties. Locate plants where they will be partially shaded by taller nearby plants, latticework or other screen.
Greens typically have shallow root systems. Keep soil moist to keep plants growing continuously. Mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds (unless slugs are a problem). Fertilizing can be helpful to promote faster growth, especially a fish emulsion type that is not high in nitrogen that can cause greens to become bitter. Water lightly but consistently. Do not let soil get dried out.
For fall crops, time maturity around time of first expected frost. Mature plants aren't as tolerant of freezing as seedlings.
After intense harvesting (whole plant), it is a good idea to fertilize plants with an all-purpose fertilizer such as fish emulsion to help promote new growth. As always, avoid applying fertilizer directly to plant or leaves.
Heirloom seeds are the gardeners choice for seed-saving from year-to-year. Learning to save seeds is easy and fun with these books. Before you harvest, consider which varieties you might want to save seeds from so that your harvesting practice includes plants chosen for seed saving. Be sure to check out our newest seed packs, available now from Heirloom Organics. The Super Food Garden is the most nutrient dense garden you can build and everything you need is right here in one pack. The Genesis Garden s a very popular Bible Garden collection. The Three Sisters Garden was the first example of companion planting in Native American culture. See all of our brand-new seed pack offerings in our store.
Most baby green varieties can be harvested once they are about 3-4" tall. Time required to reach this height may vary considerably depending upon variety and local conditions. Warmer temperatures and ample moisture will generally result in faster germination and early grow, but can cause bolting (and bitter greens taste) later on.
Leaves can be harvested individually at any point with a scissor, snip or by hand. Just be careful to avoid tearing if collecting by hand.
Additionally, many mesclun type plants can be harvested in their entirety. Using a scissors or garden snip, take greens down to about an inch above the ground. Plants will begin to grow once again, and repeated harvests are possible from a single sowing. After harvesting, fertilizing the soil with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer, such as organic fish emulsion, can help to promote faster growth and subsequent harvests. Plant should be ready to harvest again within a few weeks.
Many varieties of lettuce can be harvested as microgreens, baby greens, leaves, or entire plant. Ideally, greens should be collected early in the day, before the onset of midday sun, to prevent wilting.
Mesclun greens are typically enjoyed as a quick, convenient, and flavorful addition to your salad bowl. They are typically cultivated 2-4 times, and not allowed to go to seed.
Seeds can be saved from any type of green, if the plant is allowed to bolt to seed. The seed pods can typically be allowed to dry out on the plant. Rubbing separates the plumes and chaff from the seeds. When completely dry, shake the flower stems in the bag. Rub the seed heads between your hands to release more seeds. Put the seed through a fine mesh sieve that allows the seeds through but retains the chaff and plumes this will give relatively clean seed. Winnowing is difficult because seeds and chaff are about the same size and weight. For extra cleaning use reverse screening, with a smaller mesh that retains the seed but lets small pieces or chaff and plume through. The dust produced during cleaning causes irritation to the lungs and eyes. If cleaning large amounts use a mask and goggles or clean outdoors.
Note that hybrid seeds resulting from two interbreeding but disparate species will often be sterile, or produce plants with less than ideal traits.
For seed saving suggestions on specific varieties, visit our other growing guides.
If you’re a first time gardener you may find it easier to grow from seedlings, rather than seeds, although seeds are a more economical option. Check seed packets or plant labels for individual planting instructions.
Refer to our Planting Calendar for when to plant in your region.
Like building a house a good foundation is the key to success in your garden. The better the soil, the better your plants will grow. If you are starting with an existing garden bed dig in organic matter like Tui Sheep Pellets and Tui Compost to your soil. Then you can add a layer of Tui Vegetable Mix. If planting in pots and containers, fill with Tui Vegetable Mix.
The best times to plant are early in the morning or late in the day, so the plants aren’t exposed to the hot sun straight away. Always water plants well before and after planting.
Find a full sun, sheltered position to plant and space at least two hand spaces apart, to ensure the crops can fully mature and are not fighting for space, fertiliser and water. If you planted mesclun or a certain variety of salad green last year don’t grow them in the same spot as pests and diseases can be lingering in the soil, read our Crop Rotation Guide here.
Planting in garden beds
Planting in pots and containers
Feed your plants and they will feed you. Plants use nutrients from the soil as they grow, so replenishing the nutrients ensures your plants grow to their full potential.
Select a fertiliser specially blended for your crop like Tui Vegetable Food. Feed mesclun planted in pots and containers with Tui NovaTec Premium fertiliser. Well watered, well nourished veges will have a better chance of keeping insect pests and diseases at bay.
While your mesclun are growing regularly apply a dose of Tui Organic Seaweed Plant Tonic to give them a welcome boost. Keep your garden weed free.
The weather, weeds, pest insects and diseases can all impact on the success of your garden. Coming into winter it is important to protect your plants from the colder weather with layers of mulch like Tui Mulch & Feed.
Be vigilant and stop unwanted insects and diseases from ruining your plants. Don’t put up the welcome sign to the munch bunch of slugs and snails. These pests love coming for dinner in autumn, apply Tui Quash slug & snail control every few weeks to protect your seedlings.
You can have fresh lettuce all winter by growing plants indoors.
Start greens from seed planted in trays grown under artificial lights.
It may dark and chilly in November in most parts of the country, but a true gardener will always find a way to keep growing plants, even under adverse conditions. Gardeners in warm climates are enjoying the fall planting and harvest season, while gardeners in cold climates still continue to harvest winter hardy vegetables such as kale, carrots, leeks and Brussels sprouts. These will survive temperatures in the 20 degree F range with some winter protection.
But if you crave delicate salad greens and don't live where you can grow them outdoors in winter, or you live in an apartment with little room to garden outdoors, there's another option. The solution is indoor gardening under lights. By using an artificial light setup and growing plants in pots or containers, you can harvest lettuce, spinach and other greens right through the winter instead of paying through the nose for these salad greens at the grocery store. All it takes is a little preparation to grow your own salad garden this winter. Here's how:
Micro-greens are vegetable seedlings that are picked very young. You can use a variety of vegetables for micro-greens, such as radish, broccoli, and bok choi.
Grow your indoor salad garden so the lights are about 6 inches above the tops of the plants. If the lights are too far away the plants will get leggy. Too close and the lights may burn the leaves.Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.
If you can grow mesclun in the garden, you can also grow mesclun in containers in the house so that you can have fresh homegrown salad greens year round. Plant mesclun inside the same way that you do mesclun outdoors in planting containers containing at least six inches of light, organic planting mixture. Begin plantings indoors at about the first autumn frost while you still have greens in the garden. Continue plantings once a week until you are able to start planting mesclun in the garden. This will give you at least one salad every week during the winter.
As with outdoor gardening, make certain that the soil is kept moist, but not soggy. Keep at room temperature.