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Grow and Graze Salad Gardens Lecture and Recipes

Our Salad Gardens Program last Tuesday, March 19th included everything from easy-to follow directions for growing a tasty variety of salad lettuces, herbs, and edible flowers to a buffet brimming with a variety of salads that stirred the senses.

Some useful tips to help us get started were:

*Locate garden near a source of water

*Use compost for drainage and nutrients

*Use mulch to help retain moisture

*Use deep, infrequent watering

For a healthy foundation…start with good soil:

*Remove weeds, rock, debris

*If needed, order a soil test from Texas A&M

*Need 8-12 inches of loose tillable soil

*Ideal pH is 6.5 – 7.0 (DFW = 7.2)

*Do not work soil when it is wet

*Consider raised bed with special soil mix to start

*Build a compost pile

Growing salad greens:

*Greens include lettuce, herbs, salad greens and leafy green vegetables such as cabbage, collards, kale, mustard, spinach and Swiss chard

*Most greens are cool-season crops and must be grown in the early spring or fall in Texas. Some greens, especially kale, will withstand temperature below freezing and can be grown all winter. And, even in our hot Texas summer climate there are partially shaded spots to grow certain greens.

*Greens grow best in a well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. They prefer full sunlight but will tolerate partial shade.

*The soil should be worked at least 8 to 10 inches deep in the early spring when it is dry enough not to stick to garden tools. Break up large clods and remove trash and weeds. Work the soil into beds about 4 inches high. Add compost or organic matter before digging the soil.

*Greens grow best when given plenty of fertilizer. Adequate nitrogen is needed to develop the dark green leaf color. Before planting the seeds, apply a general garden fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at the rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 100 square feet. Mix fertilizer into the soil about 3 inches.

When shopping for seeds or transplants, consider the limitless possibilities for filling your garden with a variety of leafy greens. Rich in vitamins and folic acid, salad gardens provide both nutrition and fiber. Our mother’s admonition to “eat your greens” really was good advice.

Edible Garden tour after lecture and lunch

Here are a few of the crowd-pleasing salads our lunch guests enjoyed:

Mixed Green Salad with Nasturtiums and Raspberry Vinaigrette Raspberry Vinaigrette

To lend intrigue to a salad of mixed greens, toss in a handful of peppery nasturtium blossoms.


¼ cup raspberries

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons raspberry or red-wine vinegar

½ teaspoon sugar

6 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Using a wooden spoon, push raspberries through a handheld wire strainer to puree.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons raspberry puree, lemon juice, vinegar, and sugar.

In a slow but steady stream, whisk in olive oil until emulsified.  Season with salt and pepper.

Vinaigrette can be made 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield:  Makes about ¾ cup

Adapted from Martha Stewart


6 large handfuls of mixed greens, including wild rocket arugula, herb salad mix, etc.

6 nasturtium blossoms

Toss mixed greens with the vinaigrette.  Strew the blossoms over and serve immediately.  (Options:  may also toss with fresh blueberries or raspberries)

Fresh Spinach and Tatsoi Salad with Orange Curry Dressing

A “dressy” and inviting way to serve spinach. The addition of tatsoi gives it textural interest.


For the dressing

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons (heaping) orange marmalade

2 teaspoon curry powder

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1 ¾ cups vegetable oil

For the salad

4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed

2 cups tatsoi leaves, optional

6 apples (red and green), chopped

2 cups golden raisins

1 ¾ cups walnut halves, lightly toasted

6 green onions, chopped

¼ cup sesame seed, toasted

1 pound bacon, chopped, crisp-fried, crumbled (optional)


Combine the vinegar, marmalade, curry powder, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce in a blender container.

Add the oil in a fine stream, processing constantly at high speed until thickened.

Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.  Chill, covered in the refrigerator until serving time.

Arrange equal amounts of the spinach and tatsoi on 12 salad plates or one large platter.  Drizzle with the dressing.

Sprinkle each serving or the platter with the apples, raisins, walnuts, green onions, sesame seeds and bacon bits.

Serve immediately.

Yield:  12 servings

Orange Fennel Watercress Salad with Lemon Ginger Poppyseed Dressing


2 large navel oranges

3-4 ounces baby watercress

½ medium fennel bulb cored and thinly sliced crosswise

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup salted roasted pistachios

½ cup cutting celery, lightly chopped, for garnish (optional)

Lemon Ginger Poppyseed Dressing


Using a sharp knife, cut about ¼ to ½ inch from the top and bottom of the orange to expose the flesh. Place the fruit on one of its flat ends and cut down to remove the skin and the white pith. Rotate and repeat, working your way around the fruit until the orange fruit is completely exposed. Slice, dice or cut between the flesh and the white membrane to create orange segments.

Place most of the watercress (reserve a small amount) on a large serving plate or platter. Top with sliced fennel, oranges, dried cranberries and pistachios. Drizzle with the Lemon Ginger Dressing. Sprinkle reserved watercress and cutting celery over the salad.

Yield: Serves 4

Linda Alexander

Pictures by Starla Willis

Now we understand why Peter Rabbit ignored his mother’s warning and stole under that garden fence for a quick sampling of both lettuce and danger. We hope you enjoy your salad garden adventures as much as he did.


Two Recipes Using Nasturtiums

Nasturuims as garnish

Herbed Cream Cheese Appetizer


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

3-4 cloves minced fresh garlic


1.  Mix herbs with cream cheese by hand until blended.

2.  Spread mixture over your favorite crackers.

3.  Garnish each cracker with a nasturtium blossom.

Alternately:  Core a zucchini.  Fill center with cream cheese mixture.  Slice and serve on a cracker.  Garnish with a nasturtium blossom.

Nasturtium Mayonnaise

This recipe is the perfect compliment to chilled summer salmon, or any fish, fresh off the grill.  Also makes a great spread for tea sandwiches, or any sandwich needing some zip.


1 cup mayonnaise

¼ teaspoon finely minced garlic

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped capers

1/3 teaspoon grated lemon peel

2 teaspoons chopped nasturtium leaves


Combine all ingredients.  Keep chilled until ready to use.

Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus

It is said that Monet was rather fond of them and planted them in the border of the pathway that led to the front door of his home in Giverny.  With enchanting names like “Empress of India”, “Whirlybird”, “Alaska”, “Peach Melba” and “Butter Cream”, no wonder Nasturtiums are so welcomed in the garden.   They just seem to add a touch of old-fashioned charm.

Above: Beautiful fall nasturtiums at Shelburne Farm in Vermont

Above: Beautiful fall nasturtiums at Shelburne Farm in Vermont

Nothing signals spring’s arrival more dramatically than the first bunch of jeweled toned nasturtiums perched on the shelf at your local garden center. If you are looking for decorative, even water lily pad- like foliage, with a wave of brightly-colored blossoms that are tasty to boot, then head for the nasturtiums.  You may be familiar with the varieties that have deep green leaves, but there are now a number of variegated, almost speckled ones, as well.

Above: Lily pads in the garden? No, more fall Nasturtiums from Vermont!

Above: Lily pads in the garden?
No, more fall Nasturtiums from Vermont!

Ideally, nasturtiums like to be in full sun, with moist, well drained soil. However, most varieties can survive when grown in partial sun. These carefree little dazzlers don’t seem to be bothered much by snails, other insects or diseases.  Enjoy them from March until sometime around late June when they succumb to our extreme Texas heat.

You’ll typically find two different kinds of nasturtiums: dwarf bush type and trailing.  The dwarf types are much more commonly available, and are useful as 10- to 12-inch tall colorful borders and for mass plantings.  The trailing variety will cascade dramatically down walls or hanging baskets.  Nasturtiums make a lovely addition to the herb garden with a multitude of culinary benefits.

There is nothing more intriguing than the tissue paper like profusion of blossoms that nasturtiums produce.   Although the blossoms appear delicate, they are actually very durable and make for vibrant and long-lasting garnishes.  Use the blossoms either whole or chopped to decorate creamy soups, salads, butters, cakes and platters.  Their sweet, peppery taste (both in the leaves and in the flowers) adds to the enjoyment.

Above: Organic nasturtium blossoms bundled  up and for sale at the Aspen, Colorado Summer market

Above: Organic nasturtium blossoms bundled up and for sale at the Aspen, Colorado Summer market

Nasturtiums are natives to the cool highlands of mountains extending from Mexico to central Argentina and Chile. The conquistadors brought these brightly colored plants back to Spain in the 1500’s. The Indians of Peru used the leaves as a tea to treat coughs, colds and the flu, as well as menstrual and respiratory difficulties.   Being high in vitamin C, nasturtiums act as a natural antibiotic, once used topically as a poultice for minor cuts and scratches.


Take advantage of the many decorative ways to use nasturtium flowers for your next gathering.  However, don’t be surprised; some people will turn up their noses to a beautiful flower sitting atop a cracker spread with herb-flavored cream cheese.  Others will fully embrace the opportunity to sample such a tasty little gem.  If we could only extend our growing season nasturtiums might grace our tables more often.  Oh, dreaded Texas summers, why do you leave us so little time to enjoy this beloved plant?


Tip: Texas AgriLife Extension Service recommends planting nasturtium seeds about the time of the average last frost. They are usually planted where they can be allowed to mature, since young seedlings can be difficult to transplant.

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