Looking for a tasty, nutritious cold-hardy green to grow over the winter? Try Mâche!
While cold weather spells the end of the summer garden, in many areas, you can still grow delicious and nutrient-dense leafy greens during the fall and winter months. The trick is finding what grows well in cooler weather (or will at least survive hard freezes) in your area.
One of the hardiest winter greens is also one that you may never have heard of. It’s certainly not something you can find in the typical American supermarket produce aisle – although you may have occasionally seen it at fall or winter farmer’s markets, or you may have run across it if you have lived overseas. This green is popular in France and other cool areas of Europe, but most of us Americans have been missing out on this delicious leafy vegetable!
I’m talking about a green called “mâche.” In some circles, it is known as “corn salad,” or “lamb’s lettuce.” This nutty-flavored green veggie is super cold-hardy, tolerating temperatures down to 5° F without protection, which makes it a great crop to grow in the late fall and winter. It is also extremely nutritious, boasting high levels of vitamin A, vitamin B6, manganese, iron, and potassium.
You might be eager to get growing this healthy green veggie, but here are a few things you should know first when growing mâche, according to Tasha over at TheGrowNetwork.com:
Cold Weather Is Required
Mâche is a cold-weather crop. It bitters and bolts at the first hint of heat. Where I live in North Carolina, it is impossible to grow in spring because our weather oscillates between warm and cold starting in February.
For fall planting, I have to wait to start the seeds until mid-October. Even then, with our ups and downs in temperatures, germination is irregular. Seeds can take over a month to germinate and quite a few fail to sprout.
Also, growth stops when days get into the 70’s. That, paired with the fact that days are shorter at this time of year, means slow growing. It takes about 70-90 days to get rosettes where I live.
Mâche is not a very durable green. It won’t last nearly as long as heads of lettuce or spinach in your fridge. So, if you happen to find some to buy, use it right away. And if you grow it at home, harvest when you plan to use it for best results.
Mâche can grow in many soil types. However, it does best in soil that has some organic matter and a fair amount of nutrients. Planting it in fall, in beds that were previously prepared for other vegetables, is perfect.
You can start mâche indoors in flats or sow it directly in the garden. Either way, the environment should be cool and have plenty of light. If you are starting seeds indoors, under lights, make sure your lights aren’t over-warming the soil. Temperatures around 50°F or 10°C seem to work best for good germination.
When starting seeds outdoors, because temperatures can be irregular, overseed to ensure that you get a good crop. If your planting conditions oscillate between hot and cold, consider starting seeds in partial shade to encourage faster sprouting. Once you have a few true leaves, plants prefer full sun.
Germination can be irregular, with your first seedlings appearing as soon as 7 days after planting and others taking up to a month. Keep the first two inches of soil moist until plants are established.
Young Plant Care
Since germination is irregular and takes weeks to a month, I plant mâche in blocks rather than rows. I thin any extra plants to allow about 4-5 inches or 10-13 centimeters in diameter for mature size.
Cool soil tends to retain more moisture than warm soil. Unless you live in a particularly dry area, watering once a week is usually sufficient for growing mâche.
My favorite way to harvest mâche is to cut the plant from the crown, leaving the roots in the ground to decompose. Some people do harvest the large outer leaves periodically. However, this plant is very slow to mature and produces a limited number of leaves. So, in my opinion, it’s not a great choice as a come-and-cut green.