Virginian Eat-All Greens

Carol Deppe, in her delightful book The Tao of Vegetable Gardening introduces us to the concept of Eat-All Greens. Carol grows these by broadcasting seed of one of her carefully chosen greens crops in a small patch. When it reaches 12″ tall, she cuts the top 9″ off for cooking, leaving the tough-stemmed lower part, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil. I wanted to try this idea in Virginia, where the climate is fairly different from the Pacific Northwest where Carol lives.

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 9. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 9.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I decided fall was a promising time of year to try this scheme, as our spring planted greens only have a short season before they bolt. And summer is too hot, winter too cold. . . We sowed in mid-September, and are about to make our third harvesting foray. Unlike Carol, we sowed our greens in rows side by side. This fitted better with the space we had, a large rectangle where our asparagus used to be. The organic matter content of the soil is lovely, as we used to mulch the asparagus with hay twice a year. But the weed seed-bank is awful! After each asparagus harvest season we let the ferns grow up and the plot became impenetrable. So we got lots of summer weeds, especially morning glories and cocklebur. After about 12 years or so, we decided to give up on that asparagus patch and grow a series of cover crops until we got the weeds under control again. Having the Eat-All Greens in rows, and hoeing between the rows, fit that strategy nicely.

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 19. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 19.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We sowed on 9/16. I had a lot of help that day. Somehow the seed got sowed very thickly. Carol recommends leaf or pod radishes, some beets, some chards, quinoa, some mustards, some snow peas, some Napus kales, some amaranths, some leafy Asian greens (mustards but less spicy). She has put a lot of research into which grow best – see her book for the details. We decided to use some seeds we had on hand and some we got given, that resembled the things Carol recommends. We didn’t want to invest a lot of money first time around, nor wait for a seed company to fill our order. We knew our results wouldn’t be the same as if we lived in the Pacific Northwest anyway.

Most of the seeds emerged by 9/21 (5 days), and we hoed between the (wavy) rows on 9/23. We also thinned some of the radishes, because they were sown too thickly. The fava beans didn’t come up till 9/30, but then they grew fast, and became one of the first crops big enough to harvest. Eating the tips of fava bean plants is a practice I learned in England, so I knew these unusual plants are edible. I noticed the beets and chards are all slow-growing in our climate at this time of year, as are the kohlrabi. We had lots of seed of Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi and the seedlings are so pretty I thought they might work for Eat-All Greens, but no, not at this time of year anyway..

Dwarf Grey snow peas as Eat-All Greens. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Dwarf Grey snow peas as Eat-All Greens.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

We got our first harvest on 10/21, 35 days after sowing. The biggest varieties were the fava beans (seed we’d bought, then decided not to grow) and dwarf grey sugar snow peas (seed from last year – we don’t like these as snow peas any more). We cut along the rows with scissors. People found it hard to cut at 3″, high enough to leave the tough stem behind. I noticed we all tended to cut low. The plan was to lay the cut greens in shallow crates with the stems all aligned to make it easier for the cooks. Some people didn’t do this with the peas, putting them in a big mat in the crate. The peas got served raw, which wasn’t my intention. The stems were too tough for most people – even for cooking, we should have cut higher. We got 3 cratefuls, a generous amount, which we didn’t make the best use of, despite an instructional label. Presentation and instructions are our version of marketing to our cooks.

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on Oct 22. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on Oct 22.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

One week later (10/28) we went for our second harvest. By then the radishes had clearly come into their own, and one of the rows of dwarf grey peas that we harvested the week before had already made enough growth for a second cut. You can see in the photo above the big difference in growth rate between the radishes and everything else. The harvest was bigger than we’d hoped for. We got 10 crates and two very stuffed 5-gal buckets we decided to give to the chickens as a sign of our appreciation.

What next? I ‘m looking forward to the Maruba Santoh, and the Ruby Streaks especially. But we have to explain more carefully how these should be cooked, to people unaccustomed to cooking mixed greens. And we need to switch to more frequent forays and smaller harvests at a time. And cut higher up the stems. And then, it depends on the weather. The kohlrabi already got some frost damage. Currently the nights are mostly above freezing. Some of these crops are good down to 25F, some better than that.

I’m already thinking what would I do different if we do this again. No chards, no beets, no kohlrabi. Thinner seed sowing, straighter rows (easier hoeing). Try some other Asian greens? Buy some of the specific varieties that Carol Deppe recommends. Maybe sow a week earlier. And a smaller patch! It’s being fun!

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens - Ruby Streaks. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens – Ruby Streaks.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire