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Growing Mache (Corn Salad)

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How to Grow Mache (Corn Salad)
Growing mache

Mache will continue growing longer in hot weather, if you keep it moist and shaded.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description

Mache is a tender salad green that grows best in cool weather. It is one of the first vegetables to sprout in the spring and makes a very welcome sight. Although it grows wild in many areas and has its share of common names, there are several mache varieties that have been bred for backyard gardening, with larger leaves and sweeter flavors. Seed is becoming much more readily available, even for named varieties. The common name "corn salad" came about because it had a tendency to grow wild in corn fields.
  • Flowers: Tiny 0.05 - 0.08 in. wide, pale blue–white, funnel-shaped flowers bloom in May or June. 5 lobes, 3 stamens.

  • Leaves: The medium green leaves are elongated paddles, also known as spatulate, coming from a low growing rosette. They grow opposite on the stem and can sometimes be toothed.

Botanical Name

Valerianella locusta

Common Name(s

Mache, Corn Salad, Lamb's Lettuce, Field Lettuce

Exposure

Full Sun to Partial Shade. Early in the spring, full sun will help warm the soil and get the plants up and growing. As the days get warmer, the plants will appreciate partial shade, especially in the afternoon.

Hardiness

Mache is usually grown as is an annual. In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and higher, you can seed it in the fall and it should resume growing in the spring. Either way, it will bolt to seed when the temperatures rise.

Mature Plant Size

6 - 8 in. spread x 2 - 8 in. tall, when in bloom

Days to Maturity

40 - 60 days, for spring planted seed.

Growing Tips

There is a wild mache, which is quite tasty. Many times the only seeds you will find are generically labeled mache or corn salad, but there are different varieties available. There are 2 general types of mache, large seeded and small seeded. The small seeded only grow well in cool weather, but they are one of the first things that mature in the spring and a very welcome sight when there is nothing else fresh to eat. The larger seeded varieties can withstand the initial heat of summer and may resist bolting well into June. Soil: Mache will grow just about anywhere. It does need good drainage and tends to grow more leaves in a soil that is rich in compost or other organic matter, with a neutral soil pH Sowing: Mache is direct sown in the garden, either in early spring or in the fall. Soil temperatures should be at least 50 F. (10 C) and be patient, it can be slow to germinate. Don't worry about spacing. Broadcast the seed and cover lightly 1/8 - 1/4 in. soil. You can prolong the season by succession planting every 2 weeks throughout spring. Keep the soil moist, until germination, and then water weekly as needed. Plants should germinate in a week to 12 days.

To plant a fall crop, cool the soil a bit, by watering it well and then covering it with a board for a few days, before sowing. Gardeners in USDA Zones 7 and above will have better luck growing a fall crop into winter. In colder climates, you can keep your fall mache growing under cover of a hoop house.

Maintenance

Mache isn't around long enough to require much maintenance. If you plant in the fall, you might want to mulch the plants, after the ground has frozen. Otherwise, keep the plants watered and weed free.

Pests and Problems

The biggest pests are slugs, which love the tender leaves almost as much as we do. The leaves are low growing and the soil is damp in spring, which makes exclusion the best slug tactic. Ring the area with copper, coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth (DE) or some other slug repellant.

Harvesting and Using

Harvest like a cut-and-come-again lettuce. Use the outer leaves first, when they are about 3 in. long. Leave the rosette in place, to allow more leaves to follow. You could slice an entire head, but it is unlikely to regrow.

Mache is often described as having a nutty flavor. The leaves are very delicate and tender leaves, like a butterhead lettuce, but less sweet and more herbal. It is generally eaten fresh, with a very light dressing. However you can warm and wilt the leaves, as a salad or side dish. Pairs with walnuts, anchovies,

Suggested Varieties

Very often you will only find seed labeled as "Mache" or "Corn Salad", however seed companies are starting to come out with named varieties and it is fun (and delicious) to experiment.
  • 'Bistro' and ‘Piedmont’ - are large-seeded varieties that don't fade quickly in heat.

  • ‘Verte d'Etampes’ - is a small-seeded variety with thick leaves that help give it a longer season.

  • ‘Verte De Cambrai’ - a self-sower that should come back year after year.

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