I grow a lot of different kinds of greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, mustard green and several others. Getting these out of the garden and into a usable form in the kitchen without spending a lot of time and making a huge mess is more challenging than it first appears. Here are a few tips, all pretty much based on my own past mistakes that turned out to be messy, frustrating, and/or time consuming.
- Start with enough containers. When you’re harvesting, don’t lump everything in together. Go out to the garden with multiple containers so you can keep greens sorted, which makes them much easier to use later. (At the very least, try to keep your salad greens and your cooking greens separate.) I use a wide assortment of bowls to harvest, including salad bowls, pots, pans, measuring cups and even the top of the yogurt maker when things get really out of hand.
- Also, use scissors. You want to minimize the amount of dirt you have to clean off the greens, and the easiest way to keep them clean is to avoid harvesting the roots, with all the attached clumps of dirt. If you have scissors, it’s easy to cut off plants cleanly at the surface when harvesting, rather than pulling up the roots. If you do pull up the roots, you can snip them off and discard them, rather than throwing them into your container with the rest of your harvest.
- Pick plant by plant. If you have a big bed of lettuce, spinach or other salad greens, it’s tempting to grab your scissors, and just start cutting everything you see. It’s all lettuce right? No it is not. There are almost guaranteed to be some weedy plants in there, and it’s a much bigger pain to try and pick grass and clover out of your salad mix later then it is to avoid mixing in those plants in the first place. Look at each individual plant as you harvest so you have a better idea what you’re getting. This is also a good time to thin plants, and pull weeds, so this approach seems like it takes longer, but pays off pretty quickly.
- When planting, choose plants you can recognize. See above. This is harder if you can’t tell which plants you want to pick. The first year I planted greens I bought a couple of mixed packets of “spicy cooking greens,” “salad green mix,” etc. Unfortunately, I couldn’t identify half the plants when they came up, and I had no idea which I had planted and which were the weeds. I would have been a lot better off starting with just a few easy to identify plants-lettuce and spinach would have been good choices.
- Immediately after picking, soak them in cool water. Most greens need to be dealt with immediately after harvesting to keep them crisp, or before you know it, that bowl of lettuce you left on the counter will be a sad bunch of withered leaves. If you don’t have time to deal with them immediately, you can fill that bowl with cool water and leave them to soak.This will also help remove some of the dirt. I’m not sure how long is too long to soak, but I’ve definitely left greens soaking overnight, and it’s been fine.
- Lift them out of the water, than consider soaking them again. It can take some time to get greens really clean, but soaking them one or more times before rinsing makes this process more time efficient. The key is that after soaking, you want to leave the dirt at the bottom of the bowl. For that reason, don’t dump the bowl out, lift the greens out of the water, and into another container. Then you can discard the excess dirt and water—outside is good.
- Spin, then store. I really like salad spinners. The inner bowl works well as a harvest basket, and the outer bowl works well for soaking. But they also are nice to have for their intended purpose—removing that excess water after washing greens. Just a couple of spins of the salad spinner and the greens are ready to go into sealed food containers in the refrigerator. I use plastic sandwich or freezer bags or food storage containers with lids.