I would appreciate some advice about growing lettuces, kale, parsley - all the leafy greens. When I first started my garden 5 years ago not knowing about permaculture, I grew wonderful sweet romaine, parsley, and lacinato kale in predominantly clay soil amended with store bought garden soil. Then I started mulching with shredded oak and maple leaves in the fall, composted leaves and scraps in early spring, a little sand, and semi-composted wood chips (oak and maple) for mulch. My solid red clay soil is becoming progressively dark and loamy, full of worms and growing monster plants. BUT - sadly my greens are getting more bitter every year. I know about giving them plenty of water, not too much sun, don't eat once they've bolted, pick early in the morning..... but still, my parsley is so bitter it burns my lips! I've searched everywhere on the internet and just saw a comment that oak leaves have so much tannin they can cause bitterness. Anyone here have knowledge about this? I'm completely depressed because greens are a huge portion of my diet. I know bitter is good for the liver but not this much!
High tannin containing leaves will indeed give greens a bitter taste. To use high tannin containing leaves it is best to compost them completely, this allows time for bacteria to break down the tannin compounds.
All the oaks are fairly high in tannin, that is why they are used to tan leathers in the vegetable tanning process.
Hickorytrees also contain tannin but in smaller quantity than the Quercus family of trees which are part of Birches.
Tannin is found in grapes, apples, and many other plants we use for foods, just in small enough quantity as to be palatable.
Many things that are bitter, are better for us when they are cooked, and cooking generally reduces bitterness. Cooking also reduces volume greatly, when you're looking at leafy vegetables. If I try to eat raw Swiss chard, I usually stop after one leaf. When cooked with a little butter, I will gladly eat 20. Therefore for me, the health benefits of cooking are greatly exaggerated, since I will eat much more of what is good for me.
Thank you gentlemen. I'm glad you could confirm the oak tannins Bryant. It makes so much sense because the evidence is that every year I've been mulching and composting them, the more bitter my greens have gotten! But so many people recommend just piling leaves on the garden 12" thick in the fall so I followed them. From now on I'll compost them for a year or so and then apply the compost. Haha my sentiments exactly Dale, about chard! I do cook kale and chard - it does help. But my main dish everyday is a monster fresh salad with mixed vegetables and I like to munch on lettuce and parsley while surveying the garden when I let the chickens out early a.m. so that's been the biggest frustration. Next month I'll be planting my fall garden so I'll experiment with a bed of fresh soil to see what happens and report back here ;)
I'm sorry this may be obvious and you already know, but most of those plants become bitter when they bolt. You have to keep planting new ones regularly so you can always eat young unbolted greens. But you probably already knew that. BTW I read that parsley the second year or when it bolts, a lot of people are allergic to it.
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Good to know this before I add any oak to my garden beds. Best of luck with the fall planting and I feel your pain at not being able to munch your way though the garden in the AM as I do the same. FYI Sorrel does not go well with coffee! Haha
Over the long-haul, all that organic matter will make your soil so much better, and those tannins will break down. Consider hot composting those leaves before you amend your soil with them.
I echo the comment that as greens bolt, they become bitter. To delay this, plant them under the shade of a fruit tree or some other shady spot in your garden. Also, plant new greens weekly so that you don't have to pick from plants that are already past their prime. You can let those go to seed and collect the seeds for a future bed, but once they've started to get older. I plant a new space with greens almost weekly ---- but in the heat of summer, I know that spinach and a few other greens will quickly bolt so its no use planting it then. In the winter, greens will go months before bolting.
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Yes I knew about the bolting factor so this year I planted greens in a variety of spaces around the garden with different heat/sun levels. Even the raised bed next to the crabapple tree is in shade mid-day and is mostly expensive garden soil from the Depot. The parsley is the worst and has been since the beginning. They were all acquired this spring from different vendors and planted in 8 different places with a variety of soils and sun, we've had a ton of rain this year so I've been watering from my rain barrels in between rains. It might be the oak leaves but I still wonder if it's something else. Time to get soil tests I guess.
Thanks for the sorrel tip Geraldine - haha! Sour is not on my list of favorites anyway - maybe my kapha (or pita..) is out of balance? I've heard that some people find broccoli bitter - is it me???
A different take while you're getting your soil sorted, sweet and salt can decrease bitterness. You gradually add them and taste until the bitterness is mitigated but before what you're eating actually tastes sweet or salty. Maybe you could make a salad dressing with a bit of honey and salt as some of the ingredients? Dunk a bit of your bitter greens in it to taste and add salty/sweet ingredients until the flavor balances. I made stick blender mayo with evoo once and it was mouth burning bitter. I used this method to adjust and it turned out tasting really good.
I notice huge differences in bitterness between varieties. Did you change varieties over the years?
I haven't been liking/growing lettuce because it has been too bitter to eat. I'm not doing anything to encourage non-bitterness, such as lots of water, or shade. Just growing them in my fields like I grow everything else. This spring, I planted a mish-mash of segregating genetically-diverse lettuces. I went into the field, and tasted every plant. Hundreds and hundreds of plants. I chopped out every plant that tasted bitter to me. The first time I tasted them, I got sick from lettuce poisoning. A week later, I did it again, being very careful to spit out the juice rather than swallowing. Didn't get sick. Just felt like it from tasting so much bitter lettuce. The most recent tasting was after the plants had already bolted. They were still not bitter. There's about 12 plants left. I'm doing this project because I speculate that bitterness is heavily influenced by genetics, and I hope to eventually select for a reliably non-bitter lettuce.