Nothing represents the way modern vegetable garden crops suit modern life like the wonderful lettuce seed mixtures (with or without the addition of other salad greens) called “mesclun” that are available now. From the Provencal region of France, the idea of planting and then harvesting many types of greens mixed together has been enthusiastically adopted in this country. Fancy restaurants feature mesclun on their menus, and grocery stores sell it for an impressive $8.99 a pound. These assortments of greens are appreciated for their sophisticated mixture of flavors, textures and colors, their wholesome taste, and their ease of preparation. Gardeners have discovered that they are wonderfully easy (and economical) to grow, as well.
Mesclun has all the virtues of homegrown food. It yields for a long period of time, it does not need cooking, and it is nutritious, beautiful, sophisticated, and delicious. Commercially packaged seed assortments typically feature plants with a variety of colors, flavors, and textures such as peppery mustard greens, bittersweet chicory, tender butterhead, arugula, crunchy romaine, mache, endive, cress, anise tasting chervil and, perhaps, some parsley. Gardeners can make their own custom mesclun by mixing the seeds of several types of lettuces and other greens to suit family tastes.
So, when someone asks, “Why bother with a vegetable garden when there is lots of produce at the store?” I invite him or her over for dinner on a summer evening. We begin the meal and the discussion with a mesclun salad.
Plant mesclun in the fall when the weather cools, either in large containers or broadcast over a patch of soil. At first take only the largest and most mature leaves from the outside of each plant, or thin thicker stands. Later, mesclun can be harvested by cutting off the entire plant half an inch or an inch above the crown. Two or three complete crops of leaves may be taken from the plants before it will be necessary to replant. Sow a succession of mesclun throughout the cool season months to ensure a steady supply.