When I visited the vegetable patch for the first time in spring, I was surprised by the different shapes and shades of green already coloring the earth:
Winter salads: offer pops of light green, with larger leaves (on the lower left hand corner, feasted on by snails on the upper left corner and all the way on the upper right hand corner. I expected it to grow more during winter, but it is pretty much the same size as late last fall. Check out a full grown winter salad here. I decided to leave it; maybe it wants to be a summer salad instead?
The field salad: is a darker green, growing in bushels of short round leaves, planted as cover crop. Rather than stripping the earth from all its plants and turning the soil over, it is now known to be more beneficial for the soil (and subsequently the crop) to use cover crops (a.k.a. green manuring) during winter. This means using specific properties of plants to add nutrients back into the soil or to loosen it through the growth of the roots. To me this makes a lot more sense: keeping the soil intact and to help balance it out, rather than rip everything out and the earth up, disturbing the balance of its microorganisms. Field salad develops significant root mass that loosens the earth.
Celery: growing with short spiky leaves (in the lower middle of the picture). When I bought it, I was unsure if this would grow a big celery root or long celery stalks and nobody at the local nursery could tell me either… Like the winter salad it stayed roughly the same as when I planted it. I think they developed little round roots, because one was half-way out of the soil and consumed by snails. I am also leaving it in and will observe if it likes spring/summer time better.
Phacelia: the feathery, green plant with dark red/purplish edges is another cover crop. According to growveg.com “It is very good at suppressing weeds and will improve the soil’s structure.” In the mixed cultivation of the vegetable patch it has its very own row. I mainly plant it to attract bees and will leave it in through the whole summer.
Speedwell or Veronica: If you look really closely, (or zoom in) you can see small roundish green leaves attached to brown stems seemingly intermingling with the Phacelia and close to the lower bushel of field salad. Actually they do not hinder each other, as the speedwell covers the grounds, thus creating a good soil climate, while Phacelia grows upwards. Speedwell grows few roots and needs little nutrients. In most of Germany it is called “Ehrenpreis” which translates to “prize of honor”. Through a Facebook gardening group, I learned that in East Friesland (northern Germany) it is called “Haunerarven” in Low German, which means “a chicken’s pea”. Gardening is full of interesting terminology and regional lore.