By Fred Birdsall, master gardener, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County
Would you lie to go out to your garden in March, dust off the snow and gather a little fresh garden lettuce?
Its quite possible. The secret is mache (rhymes with squash), a European cold weather salad green similar to the Oriental Tatsoi. It makes a wonderful interim crop while you are waiting for your springleaf lettuce to mature.
Mache is also known as lambs lettuce or corn salad, the latter because it is planted after the corn is harvested. Early fall, up to Thanksgiving, is a good time to plant.
Choose a sunny location in well-drained soil. You can either broadcast the seed or plant it in rows.
Germination takes almost a month, but the plants remain quite small -almost dormant. They will be just a dot of green on the frozen ground.
These little plants overwinter well. When the ground warms slightly in late winter, perhaps February, they begin to form small rosette-like clusters. By March, the rosettes are an inch to an inch-and-a-half tall and consist of six to eight leaves. This is when you can harvest them for salad.
The taste is quite mild, nutty, with just a bit of lettuce-like crunchiness.
The seedlings grow unevenly. As you pick larger plants, thinning is done automatically. You can pull them up, roots and all, then snip off the roots while cleaning. You will need to wash the plants well, as they seem to hide a lot of dirt beneath their small, spoon-shaped leaves. A dozen plants will make a nice serving.
By the end of April, the plants will have tripled in size and fewer are needed for a serving.
By the first of May, warm weather causes the plants to bolt. The stalks become stringy and the feast is over. In the meantime, you will have enjoyed two months of some of the best salad greens youve ever tasted.
HINT: Let a few plants go to seed. Mache has a tendency to re-seed itself, although not always where you want it to be.
Mache is not well-known in Colorado, but it does well here. You may, however, need to mail order seed. Johnnys Seeds (207-437-4395) or Pinetree Garden Seeds (207-926-3400), both in Maine, sell by mail. Or call Burpee Seeds, 1-800-888-1447.
You can choose the small-seeded Cambrai, which matures in 45 days, or the big-seeded, which matures in 60 days. Try both to determine which variety you like best.
Photo: Judy Sedbrook
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010