“Eat your greens!” as our moms used to say. And you know what? Mom was right! Leafy greens are loaded with goodness—and growing them yourself is a surefire way to have fresh and flavorful greens at hand whenever you want them. If you want to boost your health with luscious, leafy greens, explore five of the very best to grow now!
Leafy greens are power foods! They’re low in calories but very high in many essential nutrients. See the health benefits of leafy greens.
1. Chard (Swiss Chard)
First up is our personal favorite: chard! It’s a really hard-working vegetable, giving up repeated cuts of leaves throughout the growing season. Leave an entire bed to grow chart. It’s prolific and spread everywhere!
Plants do tend to bolt, or “run-to-flower,” in hot weather, and as a reaction to a cold snap soon after planting. While bolting won’t make the leaves inedible, it does mean there’s less to pick. For this reason, it’s also worth planting chard after your last frost, keeping plants well-watered in hot weather, and even setting up some shade in extreme heat. If your chard does bolt, just keep cutting back the flower stalks and harvest what you can.
Beets, or beetroot, are very closely related to chard, which makes their leaves good eating too. They taste identical to spinach and are chock full of goodness – they even contain a compound shown to boost the production of serotonin, the body’s natural mood lifter. Fry them, steam them, or whizz them up in a smoothie loaded with other greens!
Spinach really is a super late-summer green: quick-growing, versatile and surprisingly hardy. Late summer is the perfect time to make sowings that will give a few leaves to pick come autumn, then more leaves the moment things warm up again next spring.
Sow seeds direct in rows about 8 inches apart, thinning in stages to leave plants a similar distance apart. Help this cool-season crop germinate in warm weather by watering into the seed drill before sowing to ensure a cool, damp environment around the seeds. Or start seeds somewhere cool and shady before planting out into their final positions.
Protect spinach from the coldest winter weather or, if winters are severe in your neck of the world, delay sowing till late summer, sowing into plug trays indoors before planting out once it’s warmed up a bit in spring. Pick individual leaves regularly to delay bolting and keep plants cropping for longer.
All hail the kale! This nutrient-dense leafy green is the real hero of the winter months, offering its crinkled leaves throughout, pausing only for the very coldest months. This lot are ready to plant, and I’ll be setting them about a foot and a half apart both ways.
Kale’s an ideal follow-on crop. These are going in hot on the heels of an earlier crop of lettuce and beets. To help them along, top the soil up with a half-inch of compost. If you’ve noticed a few brassica-munching butterflies around, cover them with an insect mesh until the coast is clear later in autumn.
It has to be said: there’s no more handsome leafy green than kale, and its good looks are matched by taste! It’s tasty when lightly fried with a pinch of salt, or even dehydrated to make kale crisps. Pick the leaves individually as soon as plants have reached a reasonable size – say a foot or two tall. Some favorite styles of kale are ‘Cavolo Nero’ or ‘Black Tuscan,” but there are plenty of other frilled or wavy-leaved kales to try, so don’t be shy to pick and mix.
4. Collards and Spring Greens
Collards, spring greens, or indeed any looser leaved variety of cabbage is a quick and easy option for those who can’t be doing with the hassle of heading types of cabbage! Just like kale, they’re loaded with nutritious goodness.
Collards and spring greens love a moist, fertile soil that’s well-drained. Late summer’s a good time to sow them, ready for planting out a month later. They’ll then grow on and off throughout the winter, before forging ahead in spring to give a harvest of tasty greens from the second half of spring.
You’ll often find ready-to-plant spring cabbages for sale in garden centers – great if you’re after just a few rows to perk up springtime suppers. I’ll be planting mine to follow on from an earlier crop of peas, but first to amend the soil: a top-up of well-rotted compost, which I’m just bunging on top and raking out.
And to plant, I’ll simply set plants about 12 to 18 inches apart within the rows, setting the next row a further 18 inches distance. There might be a few leaves to pick before winter, but if not, they’ll sit tight – while we sit patiently – till spring.
5. Turnip Greens
The final must-grow leafy green is turnip greens, which are simply the leafy tops of turnip roots. If you’ve never tried them before: they’re super-fast – ready within about a month of sowing, have a mild, almost buttery flavor, and respond really well to sowing in late summer and autumn.
Select a variety sold specifically for its leaves if you can, as it will have the best taste. Plants bolt in the heat, so delay sowing until the soil has cooled down a little. Sow direct into rows or into plug trays for planting out as soon as earlier crops are cleared. Sow or thin plants to around 6 inches apart in both directions.
They’ll need consistent moisture in dry conditions to keep them coming along. Then when they’re ready, pick the leaves sparingly as required so plants keep growing to produce more fresh, tender leaves. The leaves are at their best after a few cold nights, which helps to develop a sweeter taste.
Watch the video above to learn more about these five leafy greens! There are plenty of other leafy greens, of course, so if we haven’t mentioned your favorite, tell us all about it in the comments below.