Vegetable gardening doesn’t get any easier than direct-sowing lettuces and herbs outdoors — you can be space- and time-challenged and still produce a healthy crop of leafy goodness within a few weeks.
What’s more, you’ll harvest flavors and varieties that are nearly impossible to find at the supermarket.
Here are some of the varieties that caught our eye (and appetite) in the 2012 seed catalogs. Some of the lettuces mentioned can be grown into full heads, but I prefer to harvest the baby leaves for colorful salads.
Arianna Batavian lettuce ($3.25 for packet of about 700 seeds from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds; kitchengardenseeds.com): This French variety of Batavian lettuce is bolt and disease resistant. The leaves have a subtle nutty flavor.
Aztec spinach ($2.50 for packet of 200 seeds from Bountiful Gardens; bountifulgardens.org): Also known as huauzontle (wah-ZONT-lay), this plant is related to quinoa and spinach. It’s not technically a lettuce, but it sprouts quickly for harvesting its red baby leaves. The seeds are heirloom and open-pollinated.
Galiano lettuce ($3.25 for packet of 500 seeds from Veseys Seeds; veseys.com): This bolt-resistant oakleaf variety has dark red, ruffled leaves, a green stem and a dense head.
And a few herbs that can also be direct-sown:
Christmas basil ($3.95 per packet of about 100 seeds from Burpee, burpee.com): The catalog touts this new basil as having a “sultry, mulled wine scent with a hint of pine taste” to complement those pine nuts you put in pesto. It can tolerate some cold weather and will persist later into autumn.
Paramount curly-leaf parsley ($3.25 for packet of about 1,000 seeds from John Scheepers): This variety has dense, triple-curled, superfrilly leaves and can reach 18 to 24 inches tall.
Cup of Sun nasturtium ($2.79 for packet of about 40 seeds from Renee’s Garden; reneesgarden.com): Nasturtiums aren’t just a bunch of pretty faces. Both the leaves and blossoms are edible, packed with a powerful yet pleasant peppery bite. This variety blooms in creamy orange and yellow hues.
Wasabi arugula: ($2.99 for packet of 980 seeds from Renee’s Garden): Although arugula, that mighty, peppery herb, finally enjoys more familiarity nationwide, wild arugula is less known here than in Europe. It could be considered “super arugula,” because it has considerably more bite (consider yourself warned) and the plant has even more staying power. The catalog promises a taste inspired by the “complex, spicy flavor of freshly made wasabi paste.” Bring it on.
©2012 the Chicago Tribune