In the garden harvesting mache last week, it occurred to me that readers new to growing it might wonder about the best way to harvest this small but delicious green.
Later that afternoon when I checked the most recent post for comments, I found one reader had that very question.
Susan wrote: “I’m not sure of the best way to pick. I lose some of them when I pick just the leaves as they are still quite small. Any suggestions as to how to harvest——?”.
Things That Can Influence How You Harvest Mache
How you harvest mache can depend a lot on
- if it comes up in a tight group
- and/or what the temperatures are
- its stage of growth,
The other things that will influence harvest depend on you:
- How hungry are you?
- How much time do you have to harvest? and
- last but not least: how much of this delicious green is growing in your garden.
Details to better explain why these things might make a difference in how you harvest
Growing en masse or well spaced?
When allowing mache to reseed (as it does in my garden), it will often come up en masse. Most of those plants will remain small until spring.
The smaller the leaves (and mache leaves are not huge to begin with) the more frustrating it can be to harvest enough leaves for your meals.
Mache seed that finds its way into the paths or into any space that allows it to grow alone (or with at least a few inches between plants) will grow bigger leaves, making it seem easier to harvest.
I assumed that Susan already discovered this when she wrote, “Some of the seeds from last year floated into the paths near it and they are doing tremendously! even better than the ones on the vegetable plot.”
Temperatures Make a Difference
When temperatures drop into the icy realm, mache plants hug the ground making the harvest even more trying.
Mache leaves will raise slightly from the ground when moderate temperatures return, making it more enjoyable to harvest.
Some of the mache that comes up in my winter lettuce beds that are covered when temperatures fall below 28ºF doesn’t hug the ground because of that protection from the cold. And it’s easy to harvest if the covers to the beds are not anchored with ice.
Protecting various spots of mache in the garden with some row cover fabric laid on top can make a bit of difference in how quickly the plants un-hug the soil after the sun returns – even when temperatures are still cold.
Stage of Growth
The easiest harvests will be those few weeks when the plants feel the earth transition from winter into spring. They’ll become more full and replace leaves more quickly.
Once the weather turns warm the plants will grow quickly — and although still edible — they’re not as irresistible.
You’ll easily see them start to make this change. Before they do — it’s your chance to pick enough to last another week or two. After you clean and spin dry you can store in crisper box of the frig.
I use a gallon zip lock bag for storage. Before I put the mache in
- I lay the bag flat,
- put a paper towel in,
- add the greens,
- then another paper towel on top,
- gently compress to get most of the air out, and
- seal “almost” completely but not quite.
You Can Harvest the Entire Plant
At any time during the season you can harvest the entire plant by either pulling it from the soil or cutting it off at soil level.
The main advantage in harvesting just the leaves is the plant will continue to grow and eventually bloom and set seed.
Although there’s lots of mache in my garden, I still allow an abundance of plants to reseed. It’s a staple for me in winter, since lettuce does not replenish itself as quickly in the cold months. (And I eat LOTs of greens.)
One Final Thing
Susan also asked how to “keep them until I get them into the house?“
In crisp cold weather (but above 32ºF) all you need is a container to hold your harvest.
But Susan lives far enough South that she probably deals more with warm temperatures than cold.
When it’s hot enough that greens wilt when picked, you always need a container with some water in it for your harvest. Immersed in water, they’ll keep just fine until you can get them inside.
PS to Susan — I answered your question about my Seed Starting Book in the comments area of the last post.
Suggested Reading if you want to know more about Mache:
Mache – Why Grow it and Secrets to Having Enough
Growing Winter Greens – Starved for Lettuce and Other Greens
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Your picture looks about how my mache is growing…. all on top of each other. Now that it’s warming up a bit I’ll start to thin it out and let the rest grow bigger. So far I’ve only munched a little bit here and there when I’m outside, be nice to have an actual little salad soon. Never grown it before so it’s only a small patch. Hope I can save a lot of seed and let it go to seed also. We’ll see! Thanks for the growing & harvesting tips.
Off Topic: (Brought to mind because my mache was planted this fall in the same spot) I was growing a small patch of dwarf amaranth to see how I liked it. Next to the amaranth I did a 2nd planting of cucumbers after my 1st batch died back. One day when I was picking cukes I looked over at the amaranth and it was covered with dozens of cucumber beetles while there was not a single one on the cucumbers! I did some searches and confirmed that yes, dwarf amaranth is a trap crop for cucumber beetles and they actually prefer it. Ended up squishing tons of the little devils over the summer which was actually kinda fun cause they’re fast! This year I’ll do the pairing on purpose, giving the amaranth a few weeks head start and see how well it does.
Anyways, thanks again Theresa! God bless & take care.
“Immersed in water, they’ll keep just fine until you can get them inside.” Great tip. Thank you!
Thanks to Harold’s good detective work, I just found out via his email that my replies to the October Walk Around post were incorrectly posted to this Mache post. I’ve moved them. Sorry for any inconvenience that caused. Sure glad Harold let me know.
Hi Theresa, I garden not too far from you, and I love mache. I will add that there are 2 other things that may influence how (and when you harvest mache):
1. the cultivar. Some cultivars have bigger heads and leaves than others. For example “Mache a grosses graines” is a bigger plant than “Vit” or “Coquille de Louvier”. I keep testing mache for what does well for me, as they also have different cold tolerance. A strain from Holland will be typically more cold resistant than one from Italy.
2. cold frame (or similar protection) vs. open garden. While mache does grow fine outdoors (in fact it IS a cool grower), it does benefit from the protection of a cold frame, unheated tunnel, or even agro-fabric over hoops. Being protected from teh worst of the winds and ice, helps fatten the heads
No matter what, we are getting close to teh time when they all want to bolt….
Thanks for your additions Sylvie.
Would love to have a garden full of the large leaf mache but it’s not as prolific as the other in my garden.
I enjoy allowing mache to grow in my winter lettuce beds so they can benefit from the same protection I give the lettuce in extreme cold.
And as you indicated those seem to “fill out” faster.
As you probably know from past posts I have mache everywhere in my
garden. And just within the last few days it’s quickly starting to bolt. So I’m harvesting extra to enjoy it as long as possible.
Thanks again for your for additions to the post.
Have a great season!