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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Who is Hardy? Green Orach


The past two mornings, it has been -4 C, or 25 F. I wondered if I would find all the tender green orach sprouts keeled over, but no! In fact, they looked as vibrant as ever. At first I saw the clumps of volunteer sprouts, and thought that maybe they had protected each other from the cold, like individual moss plants growing together in thick cushions for insulation in cold or dry climates. 


However, when I saw these individual sprouts doing fine, I knew there was more to it than density. I thought perhaps the pine needle and leaf mulch had made the difference here.


When I found sprouts growing out of bare soil, supple and alive as ever, I concluded that this must be one hardy plant. It isn't just surviving a solid freeze that makes green orach hardy. This plant seems to be much less picky about soil warmth for seed germination, too. In early March at 3,000' elevation in North Central Washington, green orach has come to life throughout my garden, both in cold frames and out in the open -- before the radishes, spinach, lettuce, kohlrabi, carrots, or any other seeds showed signs of life. I don't know to what degree the slow burn of rotting wood is warming the soil, but I do know that it's still too cold for most other seeds to sprout. 

I use orach mainly in salads.
(Green and red pictured in the center of this harvest bowl from last year) 

Don't believe it if people tell you that orach is a "warm-season plant." It is perfectly happy in cold weather. It gets the warm-season reputation, though, because it doesn't bolt nearly as quickly as spinach, and is reluctant to become bitter even in the heat. What's not to love?


I would like to extend a heartfelt and special thank you to Berta, who shared this seed with me. The first time I ever met her was at Lost Lake and she asked, "Do you have a garden?" When I said yes, she replied, "Hold out your hand. Do you have a pocket?" Soon my jacket pocket was filled with green orach seed, and I knew I had met a kindred spirit. :-)

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