By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Did you know that you can grow greens for salads year round? Without a greenhouse. Without grow lights. Without a heating mat.
Peter Burke has come up with an ingenious idea for year round indoor salad gardening, which he shared in a workshop at last year’s Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)’s annual Winter Conference and details in his book Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. The idea is simple: you round up a bunch of small containers (Burke proposes the aluminum bread tins that you might have received gifts of fruitcake and zucchini breads in), a few growing implements, and a ton of seeds. You soak the seeds overnight. You also will want to soak newspapers or other acid free papers in water, and in a separate bucket some standard germination soil mix in water.
From there, you place a ½ teaspoon of sea kelp and 1 tablespoon of compost in your container and mix them together. Spoon your soil mix on top, level it so that it lies about ¼ of an inch from the top and drain the water from your seeds. Then, spread the moistened seeds over the soil so that they are touching one another but not overlapping. Cover the seeds with your water soaked newspapers and place them in a warm, dark place. Forget that the containers exist for four days.
On the fifth day, retrieve your containers, remove the covers and water the containers. Keep these containers in a well-lit windowsill, watering them with about two to four tablespoons daily.
Burke says that generally the green shoots will be ready to be clipped with scissors and eaten within three to four days of being in your windowsill. He advocates planting five small containers at a time, each one with a different seed, and to get into a routine of doing this planting on a daily basis. In this way, he says, you have the potential to have salads made from your own freshly harvested greens every day. The salads can include almost anything, but he has a fondness for pea shoots, radish and kohlrabi sprouts, kale and small lettuce greens.
So does it work?
I went home from the NOFA-NY conference with a container of pea seeds that I’d planted, courtesy of Burke’s workshop. The peas did sprout, and I did have greens – greens that I combined with farmers market purchased salad greens, sliced winter radishes, carrots and turnips, and occasionally pumpkin and squash seeds. In this way, my little garden lasted nearly three weeks. Inspired, I tried doing my own planting of five more containers. I have to admit that I didn’t follow directions as well as I could and had marginal success. But the idea intrigues me, and I hope to give it another, more focused try this winter.
Details on the book: Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, Peter Burke, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015.