Consumers have long enjoyed the tasty, refreshing crispness leafy greens impart in salads. Propelled by the convenience of bagged salads, demand for salad mixes keeps rising. More types and colors of lettuces, including micro mixes, mesclun and proprietary mixes, add contrast in texture and eye appeal, plus more varied flavor. The quest to stimulate even more sales by customizing salad mixes has opened possibilities for including a widening assortment of greens such as arugula, beet tops, corn salad, mustard, sorrel, spinach, Swiss chard and a plethora of Asian greens.
Ashley baby spinach.
As consumers become more acquainted with greens considered exotic a decade ago, they discover braising and sautéing in addition to simply serving them to enliven salads.
Growers can enjoy multiple harvests from leafy greens. Many new varieties were bred to be harvested as baby greens and perform better when cut continuously. Also, newer varieties of many vegetables such as Swiss chard can brighten salads when young or can be harvested later and marketed in bunches. Numerous greens prefer cool weather; brightly colored varieties typically display even more brilliance in cooler seasons.
Improved disease resistance characterizes many new leafy greens, particularly for multiple races of downy mildew and for lettuce mosaic virus. The MTO and MTO 30 designation indicates 30,000 seeds tested with zero tolerance for the latter virus. This designation varies by seed company; some include it in the variety name.
The following new and nearly new varieties were available to us by press time. More will be added in a subsequent column.
Alexandra spinach can be bunched or clipped for fresh markets or can be grown quickly for baby spinach. Developed by Sakata/Chriseed, this hybrid has smooth, medium dark green, spade-shaped leaves on early maturing. upright plants and has high tolerance for bolting and resists downy mildew races 1 to 11 and 13.
A hybrid endive with an attractive fresh appearance, Amos has demonstrated excellent resistance to tip burn. Bred by Bejo Seeds, it matures in 61 days.
Seedway has found that Ashley baby spinach is especially good for seeding in unpredictable and fluctuating weather. It retains its dark green color when stressed by cold or fertility problems. Semi-savoy, it resists downy mildew races 1 to 10 and white rust.
With blood-red stems and veins contrasting with bright green leaves, Blood-Veined sorrel adds vivid color to salad and micro greens mixes. Sorrel's sharp, tangy, lemony flavor gives zip to any culinary use. Harris Seeds recommends harvesting young and notes that it performs well in open fields and high tunnels.
Baby oakleaf lettuce Bolsachica has thick, spooned green leaves that add texture to salads. With an upright habit, it also resists downy mildew races 1 to 26 and is MTO 30 tested. Johnny's indicates maturity as 28 days.
Caretaker MTO lettuce produces very uniform heads with dependably consistent quality, hence, more uniform harvests and higher returns. Harris Seeds observes good tolerance to tip burn and bolting due to heat stress.
When harvested young, Eldorado Swiss chard perks up a salad mix with its glossy yellow leaves, yellow stems and deep green venation and leaves. Rupp Seeds points out this Sakata/Chriseed variety doubles for bunching when full size.
Rupp Seeds reports that Juvert corn salad has good heat tolerance in the field. Classified as a gourmet green, this medium to fast-growing variety has improved shelf life.
Siegers Seed Co. indicates that Keeper shows the best performance of any crisphead lettuce in their trials. With a large frame, it has an upright habit and smooth leaves. It tolerates tip burn. When planting in warm months, it will perform well into cool nights. It matures in 85 days.
Lettony has thick, dark green leaves with incised margins. Johnny's Selected Seeds recommends it as a baby leaf lettuce in 28 days. With an upright plant habit, it has resistance to downy mildew races 1 to 26 and is MTO 30 tested. A utility patent has been granted on this variety.
The mini green romaine Monte Carlo shows great shelf life and mild flavor with a romaine/butterleaf texture. Moreover, it's heavy for its size and reaches its weight without bolting. The dark green, semi-glossy, thick, supple puckered leaves produce 8 to 10-inch heads in about 53 days. Seedway says it's easy to grow and holds well.
Dark green, glossy Nerea has great field holding ability. Maturing in 70 days, this butterhead bred by Nunhems resists downy mildew races 1 to 3, 23, 25 and lettuce leaf aphid. Siegers Seed comments on its excellent appearance, uniformity and weight.
A processing spinach variety, Persius offers high yields and multiple cuts. Maturing early, it has medium green semi-lobed leaves on semi-upright plants. Further, this Sakata/Chriseed hybrid spinach has moderate tolerance to bolting and has resistance to downy mildew races 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11 and 12. In addition, it shows resistance to white rust by slowing any symptom development in the presence of the pathogen.
Seedway suggests complementing Monte Carlo with Pomegranate Crunch. The striking wine red with lime green ribs of this mini romaine extends through most of its clean, compact frame. The buttery, crunchy, thick, puckered leaves can be harvested in 54 days.
Rakaia has a deep but loose savoy. Seedway says this baby spinach should be crowded for erect leaves. Widely adapted and with very dark green, round leaves, this spinach can tolerate some heat. It resists downy mildew races 1 to 10 and has strong resistance to white rust.
With an entirely dark red leaf, Refugio produces baby lettuce in 30 days. The thick leaves are slightly ruffled at the margins. A utility patent has been granted for this MTO 30 leaf lettuce that also resists downy mildew races 1 to 26. Johnny's lists this variety.
Bred by Rijk Zwaan, relatively new Skyphos displays brilliant red color halfway down the leaf with contrasting green near the core. Its large head excels in both processing and carton uses. With great texture and flavor, it is widely adaptable and slow to bolt. It has high tolerance to downy mildew races 1 to 26 and tolerates lettuce leaf aphid and lettuce mosaic virus. Siegers and Stokes list this butterhead.
Glossy dark green, semi-savoy Thor has spade-shaped leaves on semi-upright plants. Maturing slowly, it has moderate tolerance for bolting and resists downy mildew races 1 to 4 and white rust. This hybrid spinach developed by Sakata/Chriseed excels in the baby leaf, clip and bunch markets.
Seeds by Bejo Seeds, Nunhems, Rijk Zwaan and Sakata/Chriseed are available from dealers such as Harris Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Rupp Seeds, Seedway, Siegers Seed, Stokes and others.
The author is a writer-researcher specializing in agriculture. She currently resides in central Pennsylvania.