Salad Mix and Microgreens

Introduction

Salad mix, mesclun mix, and spring mix are interchangeable terms used to describe assorted mixed greens harvested at the seedling stage (3-4 weeks). Blends usually include 5-7 types of greens with a range of leaf sizes, colors, shapes, and textures. Pre-mixed seed blends can be purchased, or a custom mix can be made by purchasing and combining individual varieties. Although leaf lettuces are often the primary component, most mixes also include non-lettuce greens (most commonly Brassica species) to add diversity in flavor, texture, and color. Mixes can be mild or spicy, and can be harvested young for use in salads or older as "braising" mixes.

Microgreens, like salad mix, can be grown and sold as either individual species or a mix. They are most commonly used as garnishes, where the small quantities used add touches of unique flavors. Therefore, in addition to species typically grown for salad mix, popular microgreens also include certain herbs and vegetables. Microgreens are harvested at one or two true leaves (depending on the species) and therefore can be produced quickly. Brassicas and lettuces make up the majority of possible crop species grown for salad mix, while Brassicas and Amaranths comprise the bulk of species grown as microgreens.

In general, Brassica species contribute spicy or pungent flavors, while the lettuces and Amaranths are mild and sweet. Varieties are selected not only for flavor and leaf texture, but also for color. Red varieties that are well suited for salad mix production are those that develop good red color even under low light conditions. For cool-weather or winter production, the most cold-hardy species such as spinach, claytonia (miner's lettuce), arugula, kale, and other brassicas are recommended. Choosing cultivars with resistance to a wide array of races of downy mildew is especially important for cool season production.
 

Types and Varieties

Salad Mix
Lettuces Alboreto, Black Seeded Simpson, Red Sails, Carlsbad, Powerhouse, Spritzer, Flashy Trout Back, Jericho, Green Saladbowl, Deer Tongue, Tambay, Coastline, Red Saladbowl, Sulu, Dark Red Lollo Rossa, Pensacola, Clearwater, Parris Island, Tango, Garrison, Celinet, Lalique, Tamarindo, Rouge d'Hiver, Waldmann's Dark Green, Outredgeous, Annapolis, Red Rosie, Blade, Bolsachica, Aerostar, Breen, Defender, Freckles, Galactic, Red Oak, Red Tide, Sandy, Spock, Winter Density, Beijing Green, Green Miles, Red Hot, Shanghai Red 
Non-Lettuce Asteraceae Family Frisee (Cichorium endivia) – Benefine, Eliance, and Chrysanthemum (Glebionis coronaria) - Shungiku
Arugula Salad type cultivars (Eruca sativa) – Standard, Astro, Esmee, Darkita, Balboa, Green Brigade, Roquette, Speedy, Uber, Sparkle RZ
Wild type cultivars (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) – Bellezia (DM), Sylvetta, Dragon's Fire, Grazia
Mustards (Brassica juncea) Scarlet Frills, Red Giant, Red Splendor, Ruby Streaks, Green Wave, Golden Frills, Miz America, Wasabina, Garnet Giant, Dragon Tongue, Frizzy Joe, Frizzy Lizzy, Purple Osaka, Red Carpet, Red Lace, Red Streaks
Non-Mustard Brassicaceae Family Chinese Cabbage, Komatsuna, Mizuna, Pac Choi, Tatsoi (B. rapa spp.) - Tokyo Bekana, Green Giant, Central Red, Rosie, Vivid Choi, Red Cloud, Koji, Green Coin, Tah Tsai, Vitamin Green, Red Kingdom, Cress (Nasturtium officinale, Barbarea verna, Lepidium sativum) - Watercress, Avona, Belles Isle, Upland Cress, Wrinkles Crinkled, Kale (B. napus and B. oleracea) - Red Russian and CN RKAL 1039 Red, Radish (Raphanus sativus) – Hong Vit, and B. carinata - Amara
Chenopodiaceae Family Beet and Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris) – Bull’s Blood, Bull’s Blood Olympia, Early Wonder Tall Top, Golden, Chioggia, Ruby Red, Fordhook Giant, Rainbow, Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) – see Spinach section, Amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus and A. tricolor) – Burgundy, Red Garnet, Red Leaf (Callaloo), and Orach (Atriplex hortensis) – Red Ruby
Other

Mache/Corn Salad (Valerianella) -Vit, Étampes, Dandelion (Taraxacum), Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata), Sorrel (Rumex acetosa and R. sanguineus) – French, Red Veined, Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – Goldberg Golden

in addition to the cultivars and crops listed above,  microgreens may include the following:
Brassicaceae Family Broccoli, Cabbage, Collard, Kohlrabi (B. oleracea) – Red Acre, Red, Purple
Radish (Raphanus sativus) – Hong Vit, Red Rambo, Daikon, Red Stem, Purple Stem, Red Arrow, Purple Sango, Triton
Chenopodiaceae Family Magenta Spreen (Chenopodium giganteum)
Saltwort (Salsola komarovii)
Celosia (Celosia spp.)
Asteraceae Family Chicory (Cichorium endivia) – Bianca Riccia
Dandelion (Cichorium intybus) – Red
Chrysanthemum (Glebionis coronaria) – Shungiku
Marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) – Gem 
Apiaceae Family Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Carrot (Daucus carota)
Cutting celery (Apium graveolens)
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) – seed coat will shed more quickly when using monogerm seed
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – Green, Bronze
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Lamiaceae (mint) Family Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Dark Opal, Genovese, Italian Large Leaf, Red Rubin, Bicolor, Cinnamon, Lemon
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis
Shiso (Perilla frutescens) – Britton 
Other Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Scallion (Allium fistolosum) – Evergreen Hardy White
Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)

Soil Fertility

Salad mix crops grow rapidly and require relatively little fertilizer. Sidedressing is usually not needed. If planted following another crop, additional fertilizer for salad mix may not be necessary. Supplemental fertility for microgreens is generally not necessary.

PLANT NUTRIENT RECOMMENDATION ACCORDING TO SOIL TEST RESULTS FOR salad mix
salad mix NITROGEN (N) LBS PER ACRE PHOSPHORUS (P) LBS P2O5 PER ACRE    POTASSIUM (K) LBS K2O      PER ACRE
SOIL TEST RESULTS   VERY LOW LOW OPTIMUM ABOVE OPTIMUM VERY LOW LOW OPTIMUM ABOVE OPTIMUM
Broadcast and Incorporate 50 180 120 30-60 0-30 180 120 30-60 0
Sidedress 3-4 Weeks after Planting (if needed) 30 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL RECOMMENDED 50-80 180 120 30-60 0-30 180 120 30-60 0

Planting

Salad mixes are typically seeded at high densities to ensure good yields as well as shade out weedy competition. Seeding rates vary with seed size and species, but common spacing is less than 1" between plants with 2-3" between rows on 30" wide beds. Seed can be broadcast, but is often seeded 1-6 rows at a time using a hand-driven precision seeder. For larger scale production, 17-row mechanical seeders are often used. Germination may take anywhere from 2-15 days at the optimum germination temperature (55-70º F). Follow specific germination requirements for each component of the mix. Generally, salad mix components are cool-season crops that will germinate poorly when night temperatures exceed 80º F. Germination of some species can be inhibited by heat and light; shading may be necessary for adequate germination and growth in mid-summer.

Although seeds of multiple varieties or species can be blended and planted together, different germination times and rates of growth may make coordination difficult. When creating a custom mix, each component is typically grown separately and mixed after harvesting since growth rates vary greatly with species, day length, total light, and temperature. The time from planting to harvest will be 2-3 times longer for fall (September to February) plantings than for late spring or early summer plantings. Consistent harvest throughout the growing season requires carefully planned succession plantings. Winter production in New England is possible, but low light and cool temperatures make production time longer than in summer, and cold-hardy species should be used. Prolonged exposure to temperatures below freezing (32º F) will reduce the quality of even the hardiest species. The best way to determine timing is to experiment in your own system.  See the following Johnny’s Selected Seeds publication for starting point recommendations: the Winter Growing Guide (https://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/winter-growing-guide-high-tunnel-scheduling.html).

Microgreens are grown in potting media in row trays or shallow flat trays.  Since microgreens are harvested so young, their root systems do not need full-depth trays, and both row trays and shallow flat trays help conserve media.  Optimal seeding densities and growing conditions vary by species.  Heating mats are beneficial for winter greenhouse conditions.  

Harvest and Storage

Salad mix greens can be harvested 3-5 weeks after seeding, depending on the species and growing conditions. Flavors intensify and leaf textures change with age, so optimum harvest time will depend on yields required and the intended use of the final mix. Harvesting can be done by hand clipping approximately 1" above the soil line using scissors or knives. Mechanical or hand-driven saw-like harvesters with or without vacuums are used for large-scale production. Some varieties will re-grow to permit multiple harvests, but the second harvest will be less uniform and may be of lower quality. For this reason, most growers harvest each planting only once. After harvest, salad mix components should be washed, dried, and cooled prior to packaging in bags or plastic-lined boxes. Young leaves are tender and susceptible to bruising, and therefore must be handled very gently after harvest. Rapid cooling by washing with near-freezing water will greatly prolong shelf life. Greens are then dried using small salad spinners or custom-made commercial or homemade versions with larger capacity. 

Microgreens can be harvested 2-3 weeks after sowing, after the development of 1-2 true leaves, which confer visual interest, texture, and loft to the final product. Some species, like fennel, only develop their characteristic flavor when they reach 2+ true leaves. Like salad mix greens, time to harvest depends on species and growing conditions. Microgreens are cut with scissors as close to the soil as possible, and then washed and dried in salad spinners. Microgreens are highly perishable, and do not typically keep beyond 5 days.

Salad mix and microgreens should be stored as close to 32º F as possible with 98-100% relative humidity. Food safety issues from microbial contamination are often linked to leafy greens that are eaten raw. It is important to follow some basic practices that are in accord with the guidance outlined in the Food Safety section of this guide.