Growing mache gives you a late season source of salad greens

Unless you're preparing something for a spring bloom, late summer can be a tricky time to plant anything in your garden. It will take several weeks for a plant to develop, and it might be killed by the first hard frost of the fall before you get a chance to enjoy it.

One good option for a late season crop is mache, a fast-growing plant that enjoys cooler temperatures. Mache offers a good supply of fresh greens for salads or sandwiches just as local farmers markets and CSAs are starting to close up for the season.

Rosettes of elongated leaves can be harvested from mature mache plants. Marie Iannotti, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says small funnel-shaped flowers may also start to develop on the plant. Mache is fairly compact, only growing about six to eight inches tall.

You might get good results mixing mache in among other crops. The plant's common nickname, corn salad, came about because the plant was often found growing among cornstalks.

September is a good time to sow mache seeds. You can choose to plant seeds directly in the garden or in a container. Celeste Longacre, writing for the Old Farmer's Almanac, says she plants mache in a window box and keeps it outside until frosts become more common, then moves the box indoors.

Be aware of the temperature when planting. Mache likely won't germinate in temperatures above 70 degrees, so be aware of unexpected heat waves and be careful about keeping your home too warm if growing the plant indoors. Mark Macdonald, writing for the organic gardening company West Coast Seeds, says the ideal temperature range is 45 to 65 degrees.

Full sunlight is beneficial for growth, especially for spring plantings. Iannotti says afternoon shade is helpful during warmer periods to keep the plant from getting overheated. The gardening company Burpee says mache can be shaded during warm days to keep it from bolting and going to seed.

Plant seeds in fertile, well-drained soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH level. Plant a few seeds every half inch in rows separated by at least one foot, covering them with a quarter-inch or half-inch of soil.

Natural rainfall is often enough to sustain a crop of mache. If the garden receives less than an inch of rain in a week, water the plot to give it some extra moisture.

Seedlings should emerge within two weeks, if not faster. These can be thinned to allow two to four inches of space between them. Thinned seedlings are edible and make good additions to salads.

Mache planted in the fall instead of the spring may grow better if you prepare the garden plot before sowing. Iannotti says you can cool the soil by watering it and covering it with a board before you plant seeds. A hoop house can also be beneficial for fall crops.

Fertilizer won't be necessary, although mache can make use of the nutrients left over from other crops. Macdonald says the plant can thrive on fertilizer left behind from crops such as lettuce and bush beans.

Leaves will be ready for harvest within several weeks of planting. Burpee says mache can often be harvested after 40 days.

Harvest the outer leaves of the mache once they are three or four inches long. Macdonald says small groups of leaves can be carefully grouped together and cut about one or two inches above the surface of the soil.

Mache is generally free of problems, although you should keep the surrounding area free of weeds to minimize competition for water, space, and nutrients. Iannotti says you may also need to put down a protective ring of coffee grounds, copper, or other slug repellant material.

If you want to have an ongoing supply of mache, sow new seeds every two weeks. This will let you enjoy a continual harvest until the frost or heat puts an end to the plant's growing season.

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