The recent heavy rain events created havoc with vegetable production around Auckland. Lettuces @$7 each and a broccoli head @$4.50 each tell a sad story for veggie eating in Auckland now. As the weather gets colder plants grow more slowly so high prices could be around for a while.
Our own lettuce crop was munched heavily by caterpillars so there’s less in the garden here too. The next generation is growing – slowly, but caterpillar-free now.
Time to look for alternatives!
Other salad greens we can ‘forage’ from our garden include
Young dandelion leaves,
Corn Salad [also called Lambs Lettuce],
Orange tree with endive crop
There’s quite a range to choose from. These appear in autumn/winter by themselves so when lettuce becomes scarce, I go searching for other options and am pleased to find a range to supplement our salads.
In colder weather these alternatives can be sweet and nice to eat. In warm weather they become bitter so if you like juicy, sweet salads, choose young, new leaves and enjoy them in cooler weather.
Many of us may not have used these lettuce alternatives before. I had to learn to look beyond the ‘iceberg lettuce’ which was all we had in my childhood. Now is a good time to explore these to replace expensive lettuces.
One of our main alternatives is endive. We have 2 varieties self-seed and in cool weather they give lovely sweet frilly leaves – these have become a staple for salads.
Other alternatives to lettuce
We use sprouts more when leafy greens are expensive or hard to grow.
Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for lettuce alternatives.
Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties.
Interested in our easy ways to grow and use sprouts? More info – here.
Another alternative to lettuce for salads is micro-greens.
Micro-greens = ‘small greens’ I suppose.
We experimented with growing an assortment of micro-greens – alfalfa, red clover, lentils, peas.
We used shallow punnets of potting mix/mulch and sowed seed thickly on the surface, then sprinkled a little more covering over the top. We watered them well and placed them in a warm spot. These are in a sheltered space on our patio facing northeast [a sunny spot here in Auckland].
This collection began as a very mixed collection of ‘whatever seeds I had’ and included alfalfa, red clover, lentils, mung beans, peas.
They grew at different rates so we could snip off something over a long period. After snipping the green tops above the bottom leaves, many regrew and gave a 2nd harvest.
I think I prefer growing sprouts – easier, less mess, more return for the effort. But I wouldn’t have known this if I’d not experimented and grown some micro-greens. You might prefer these types of greens – you never know until you try.
Asian greens are another good crop to plant now – they grow fast even in cooler weather.
Water spinach [Kang kong]
And many more!
Some are nice raw and others we prefer cooked, usually in a stir-fry.
A final thought as to how we use these ‘lettuce alternatives’ sometimes:
We can even make sprouts taste nice so we get nutrients we need in a pleasant form!
When salad greens are hard to grow or expensive, sprouts can fill a gap to supply essential nutrients for our cells and bodies. We can use sprouts in salads, in stir fries and casseroles or curries, in shakes or smoothies.
Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for salad lettuce alternatives.
We add a bunch of these sprouts to other salad greens – a few dandelion leaves, endive, parsley, rocket, Mizuna, etc. Then add a favorite dressing or put them in a sandwich with peanut butter – that works well.
My current favorite dressings are
a balsamic dressing or
a thicker, creamy dressing made from tahini and apple cider vinegar/lemon juice. Mix 1-2 tablesppons of tahini with a teaspoon of the juice/vinegar in a small jar. Add any seasonings you like [Salt, pepper, tamari soy sauce, garlic, etc] Add some water [2-3 tblespns about] to the jar and shake vigorously. When combined, leave to rest and thicken up and become creamy. Nice. Keeps in the fridge 2-3 days.
Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties. Chickpeas make great hummus or can go into casseroles or curries.
How we grow sprouts:
Get fresh seeds which are not treated! Really important if we want seeds to sprout and grow. Old or treated seed is often dead and just rots instead.
Find some jars and rubber bands and a pieces of mosquito netting [or some other fabric which water will drain through].
I love the circular screw-threaded jar tops with mesh inserts. These fit onto some jars I already have and make it easy to rinse the sprouts often.
First I put 1-2 teaspoons of small seeds or 1 tablespoon of larger ones in a jar as in the photo. Cover with the mesh top. half fill the jar with cool water and leave it sit for an hour or 2. [Sprouts prefer rain water or filtered water if you have it.]
[Important extra step for sprouting mung beans: soak mung beans in hot water to get best germination rate. In cool water some mung bean seeds fail to germinate and stay as hard little balls in the sprouts – not nice to eat and hard on teeth. Hot water has been very effective for us in giving great rates of germination – easy solution!]
Drain off the soaking water and rinse again in fresh, cool water.
Rinsing removes anything which would rot or ferment and makes sprouts taste good [don’t drink the rinse water]. Our jars sit on the ledge above the sink. Yes, I know sprouts grow better in the dark but I forget them there. They grow fine by our sink and I remember to rinse then drain them into the sink at least 2 x daily.
When are sprouts ready?
When small salad sprouts grow green leaves and look ready, they either go into a meal or the jar lid is changed for a solid one [to stop moisture evaporating out from the sprouts] and put into the fridge. They will keep there for some days.
Larger sprouts are better used or refrigerated when they just start to sprout only – well before green leaves stage – or they are more likely to rot instead. Look for the tiny white rootlet which first appears.
Many recipes with dried beans, peas or other such legumes say to start by soaking the dried seeds before using them. Sprouting live seeds for a day or so will activate far more nutrients in the seeds than just soaking them – it just needs more forward planning for meal production [or some in the fridge]!
Sprouts are often added as a garnish to recipes. This is an easy way to start adding them to your meals too.
Another way is to chop small sprouts [eg alfalfa or red clover] very fine and add them to a dressing or salad. They disappear into the rest of the ingredients.
A shake or smoothie can be enhanced with these delicate sprouts added too.
$2-4 dollars buys a packet of sprouting from a reputable supplier [eg Kings Seeds]. Each 30 or 100 gram packet will grow MANY jars of sprouts. Such a small price for great nutrient supplies!
Just now lettuces are up to $7 each to buy here, so sprouts are much more cost effective. Just a few sprouts will help our bodies have the nutrients they need so it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes we take an easy option and buy a punnet of ‘ready to eat’ sprouts from the veg section of a supermarket or green grocer. Still cheap greens.
Lentils [assorted varieties]
Dried beans or peas of various types when I want to experiment.
If this is a new experiment for you, start by adding a few amidst other things you enjoy in salads, shakes or veg. It can take a few different experiments to find what works for you. I wasn’t a great salad sprouts fan until I added them to a creamy dressing.
I often add a toasted seed mix – sesame and sunflower seeds gently roasted in a dry frying pan then sprinkled with tamari soy sauce – yum!
Hope you enjoy trying different options when greens are in short supply – or you just want to try something new.
Do other garden stuff instead. Eg, renovate your garden beds ready for a green-manure crop or for re-planting.
From 19th May until after the dark of the moon on Friday 26th May 2017.
This is also a great time to enjoy the garden, and see it from a broader perspective than just working in it – one thing after another. What does yours offer you? What gifts – large or small – has it for you now:
Scent of flowers?
Beauty of flowers to gladden and lift the heart [a wonderful balance to the ‘heady’ world many of us live in]?
Something to harvest – a great bounty or a few dandelion leaves [small new ones, un-sprayed, can do great things for our livers and digestion]?
Butterfliesto remind us of the importance of joy in our lives as they flit here, there and somewhere else for no apparent reason? Are any still around?
Birdswhich are great friends in the garden [clearing up pests on our plants] and how can you encourage the helpful ones [and discourage the nuisance ones]?
Worms! growing rich soil to grow great plants?
A seat to sit on and reflect
Views to enjoy
Energy and vibrancy of growing things
Here are a few areas we turn our attention to:
Remove annuals which are past being useful [read – scrawny silver-beet, lettuces, other greens heading to seed and not needed as future seed stock] to prepare a bed for planting come spring.
Plan to create optimum conditions to grow GREAT crops of your favorite veg or fruit. Check their needs – do they want very rich soil or less nutrients?
Plan your next seed sowing, your garden layout, or crop rotation to minimize pest and diseases.
Harvestthe fruits of your efforts from past months – this is a time to enjoy results. Store mature pumpkins, squash, Tromboncino squash [ like zucchini but tastier], chokos, lettuce, endive, chilies, broccoli, kale [which is pretty well perennial here now and self-seeds well], silver-beet, bright-lights beets, beetroot, daikon radish.
As the moon nears its smallest visible ‘dark of the moon’ phase, it is best to take a week off from planting or sowing seeds at this time as it is associated with spindly, weak growth.
For more information about moon planting, Organic Lesson gives a reasonably clear over-view. I like exploring such ideas for myself rather than just trusting and believing.
If you like experiments about when to plant for best results, check out the idea from a past month to see how the recommendations for best/worst seed sowing outcomes from moon-planting guides work for you. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t.
At the minimum, these moon planting guides remind me to plant SOMETHING, plan a little, and help me have a continuous supply!
provides a good supply of a food source in the colder months. We dig up some to eat and re-plant some for next year’s crop. One of those ‘easy-care’ perennials which continue year after year with no care unless we want to. The clump keeps getting bigger.
Yacon is in the daisy family and has flowers like small sun-flowers on long stems. They are a bit similar to Jerusalem artichokes [in more ways than one]. For exact identification, it’s called Smallanthus sonchifolius.
All are quite large plants so back of a garden bed or in an unused place where they can grow and multiply is best. They can sprawl up to 2m up and out. We tie them back when they get too straggly.
They produce 2 types of tuber
1/ A food storage tuber which is long, roundish and smooth skinned. Crisp like an apple; not so sweet yet can still be enjoyed eaten raw in slices [peeled] or cooked [see below].
2/ A small knobbly tuber with ‘eyes’ [like potatoes] which will sprout to form a new clump. These are the tubers to replant.
How can we use these tubers?
Wash the smooth, rounder tubers well.
I use a brush in water and the outer skin rubs off easily when the tubers are fresh. For older, stored tubers, the skin becomes harder so I peel them instead.
Some recipe ideas
Slice and stir fry with other favorite veg and a tasty sauce.
Add to curries, stews, casseroles
How to eat Yacon – and enjoy it!
At the start of each new season, use just a little yacon mixed in with a lot of other veg – and build up slowly. This gives our digestive systems time to adapt and digest the food better. Otherwise they can have the same effects as Jerusalem Artichokes – hard to digest so by-products include gas – uncomfortable! [For you and your friends.]
Give your digestive system time to adapt – it makes all the difference to enjoyment of the crop!
It’s time to sow seeds for fruits and flowers this week until the full moon on 11th May 2017.
Especially good days include Sunday 7th to Wednesday 10th [here in New Zealand]
In the northern hemisphere, this is a great time to sow heaps for summer crops.
Here in New Zealand, the weather is getting cooler and with less day-light so the ground is also cooling down. We may still plant a crop of green manure into vacant garden beds. It can grow until the plants start to flower then we will chop them off and either dig them into the soil or, more likely, cover the lot with mulch and leave the worms to turn it all into lovely new rich soil for spring planting.
This week the moon is growing towards full and from Sunday through to Wednesday are when many aspects line up to give optimum good germination for strong seedlings. Worth a try I think.