By Denise Seghesio Levine, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Something has changed. When I was growing up and for many years afterward, a plate of greens was always, well, green.
But now, peruse your favorite seed catalogs, take a stroll through local nurseries, spend a morning at a local farmers market or wander down the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store and you'll see “greens” in a veritable rainbow of colors. Greens don't have to be green anymore.
Consider all the new varieties of Swiss chard. Our family garden always included chard. We harvested outer leaves all through the winter for steamed greens or ravioli filling. Fordhook Giant chard, introduced in 1934 by Burpee, dependably supplied us with nutritious greens from autumn through winter. We grew and another variety, Lucullus, which was introduced in a 1912 seed catalog, for its thick white stems and stalks to use in gratins and other sauced or cheesy dishes. Rhubarb Red chard evidenced its relation to the beet family with deep red stalks and veining and deep reddish-green leaves. Alas, the vibrant color diminishes with cooking.
And now we have Rainbow chard. Seed Savers Exchange offers an Australian heirloom mixture of technicolor leaves and stalks of red, purple, yellow, orange and white. Red-stalked chard has deep maroon leaves with crimson stalks. Yellow-gold chard has eye-popping yellow leaves tinged with chartreuse and golden stalks. The colors are gorgeous, crisp, bold.
Another colorful favorite in our garden is Flamingo chard, available from Renee's Garden Seeds. Flamingo boasts bright green leaves with flamingo-pink stalks.
These beautiful vegetables are a wonderful addition to the fall and winter garden not only for the nutritious harvest they provide but also for the spots of color they add to winter beds that can otherwise be a bit dreary. What's more, these colorful varieties retain their vivid hues even after cooking. Their jewel-colored stalks spark up a plate of greens.
Kale is another fall and winter favorite that can bring color and interest to garden beds and kitchen recipes. Russian Red Kale is misnamed in my opinion given its blue-green leaves and lavender-violet stalks. Blue Curled Scotch kale is more accurately named. If you are growing Lacinato kale, also called dinosaur kale, or have purchased it, you know that, compared to a green vegetable, it looks really blue. Lacinato kale is easy to grow and is prized in many traditional Italian recipes. Occasional aphid infestations can be washed off with a blast from the hose, If you want to explore cooking with kale or expand your kale repertoire, take a look at this bread salad recipe, courtesy of Napa's Foodshed restaurant and Rancho Gordo (https://www.ranchogordo.com/blogs/recipes/white-bean-and-kale-panzanella).
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has one whole page dedicated to “other greens.” Red orach is a pictured star with deep purple-violet leaves, and it is just gorgeous. Related to lambsquarters, a green that gardeners either love or hate, this beautiful 4- to 10-inch small-leaved plant can be used in salads or cooked as a vegetable.
Kale and Swiss chard can be grown as individual plants or in beds. A chard plant can grow over a foot tall, while Lacinato and Red Russian kales can reach three feet or more in height. A single plant may be enough for a small household, although if you cook a lot and want to supply neighbors and friends, a dedicated bed might be in order.
These are hardworking plants, so prepare your garden bed by adding compost, worm castings or alfalfa pellets. Chard can be planted on eight-inch centers while kale needs fifteen inches between plants. If you monitor it and water as needed until the rains start, you will usually have something to harvest within 45 days. Cut or break off the outside leaves and the plants will continue to grow and supply you with greens. And blues and purples and yellows and pinks. Eating greens has never looked so good.
Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Bulbs, Rhizomes, Corms and all the Rest” on Saturday, September 22, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at a location to be determined. Bulbs are among the easiest plants to grow, and they deliver welcome color and scent when the winter is dreary. In this workshop, Master Gardeners will showcase a variety of bulbs, rhizomes, corms, tubers and stolons. Learn how to plant several kinds for successive bloom; how to care for, store or divide ones that will bloom again; and even how to force them for a date-specific bloom. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.