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June 2, 1998

Old-Time Gardening Tip

Three-Year Itch in the Perennial Beds

It comes about, with the most successful of hardy mixed borders, that at the end of the third season, things will become a little confused and the relations between certain border-brothers slightly strained. Personally, I believe in drastic measures and every third or fourth year, in late September, or else April, I have all of the plant carefully removed from the beds and ranged in rows of a kind upon the broad central walk. Then, after the bed is thoroughly worked, manured, and graded, the plants are divided and reset.

Barbara, The Garden, You, and I, 1910

The author, known only by her mysterious pseudonym, adds that the leftover plants are "a sort of horticultural wampum" that can be traded with neighbors for other plants.

Today's Gardening Tip


The greens scene. Greens comprise a range of vegetables grown for their leafy, dark green tops -- eachone distinctive and flavorful. Pick from collards, kale, broccoli rabe, or turnip, mustard, and beet greens.

Make a rich bed by turning rotted manure or compost into the ground as soon as it can be worked. Add 1 to 2 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 50 square feet. Kale and collards prefer soil with a pH of 6.5 or above, so amend accordingly.

Fertilize again for maximum production of nutritious leaves and stems. Feed greens when they are about 6 inches tall by spreading a band of 10-10-10 fertilizer at the rate of 1 cup per 10-foot row.

Don't till kale under in fall. Let it grow through winter to be enjoyed as a fresh vegetable treat. If the leaves are frozen, don't thaw them before steaming or boiling. Some gardeners say that kale, as well as collards, tastes sweeter after the first frost.

Summer collards. Collard greens, usually grown in fall and winter, stand up well in heat. Planted in spring, they can make it through even the hottest months.

Vary your crop. To ensure a ready supply, plant a short row of the greens of your choice every 10 days in spring and summer. A staggered planting scheme means you can always harvest the leaves in their prime.

Harvest them young. Cut turnip greens and mustard greens while they're still young and tender. For tasty beet greens, harvest when the beets reach the size of marbles.

The best way to wash greens is to fill a large washtub or the kitchen sink with cold water. Put the greens in a colander, plunge it into water, and swish vigorously to remove dirt. Let drain before using.

The sooner the better. Use greens immediately after picking them for the best taste.

To store greens for the short term after a thorough washing, drain them and wrap in paper towels. Seal them in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. But, make sure the greens aren't too damp before storing; otherwise, they'll begin to rot.

Cook 'em right. Tender young greens can be stir-fried or steamed briefly before being served. Mature greens are tougher and should always be steamed or boiled before being sauteed or stir-fried.

Don't undercook. Even through cooking greens for a long time lessens their nutritional value, the nutrients of nearly raw greens can't be absorbed easily by the body. Undercooked greens are also hard to chew.

Not just for boiling. Raw mustard greens add a pleasant bit to salads. Clip leaves at 6-inch lengths. Be sure to keep plants well watered; their flavor becomes hotter and more bitter if the soil is allowed to dry out.

A Greens Sampler

A turnip variety developed for its tender greens is 'All Top Hybrid.' For tasty beet greens, grow the heirloom beet 'Chiogga.' Collards lovers praise the flavor of 'Vates,' while experienced kale growers swear by 'Russian Red,' also known as 'Rugged Jack.' For the fastest-growing mustard greens, choose 'Tendergreen.'

Inspirational Thought

A group of two hundred executives were asked what makes a person successful. Eighty percent listed enthusiasm as the most important quality.

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