2010-11-11 / News

Save money by growing your own greens in just one month

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Do you pay up to $5 for a package of fresh salad greens in the supermarket? If you do, you may be wasting a lot of money. You can grow your own salad greens in about 30 to 40 days.

First, purchase a package of mixed greens seeds. It is best to buy a small package to start with and when the technique has been mastered, move onto larger packages. The seeds should have a good mixture of lettuce, radicchio, beet leaves, mustard and other greens. Territorial Seeds sells a pretty good mixture. You can also grow herbs such as basil, chives, parsley, thyme, tarragon, and oregano in containers like this, although you probably do not want too much thyme or oregano. A single pot will do for these herbs.

The next step is to find the right growing vehicle. I use a large black plastic container that is used for mixing paint and wallpaper paste in. It is about three feet by two feet and about six inches deep. You can use any sized container, although the larger the container the more greens you can grow. Jamestown Hardware sells the paint containers that I use for a few dollars. The best part is, once you have mastered the technique you can have one container starting, another with half-grown plants, and a third with near fullgrown plants to keep a continual winter harvest going.

When growing plants in containers with no holes in the bottom, it helps to put an inch or so of gravel in the bottom of the container to keep the plant roots out of the water. Fill the remainder of the container with moist potting soil mixed with about onethird sand and a few teaspoons of general-purpose fertilizer. If your container has holes in the bottom make sure you protect your indoor floor with a watertight tray

Finding the right place for your container can also be difficult. I start the seeds in my basement germination chamber – that’s a fancy name for two four-feet, 40- watt fluorescent lights hanging over the growing container, but when I call it a germination chamber it sounds like I know what I’m doing.

As the seedlings grow larger they are moved to the warm greenhouse where they grow until I want to harvest them. You don’t have to move your plants to a greenhouse or cold frame in cold weather, simply place them in a sunny window. Rotate the plant pot a quarter turn each day or you will get plants that lean toward the window, and nobody wants to eat bent plants!

Typically, you will be able to harvest your greens when the seedlings are about three to five inches tall. If you let them grow too large you’ll find that some plants get stunted as more vigorous growers take over. It will take from 20 to 40 days depending on temperature, watering and warmth to grow your wintergreens to edible size.

As we get deeper into winter, you may have to supplement the light over your tray with a grow light to keep the greens growing longer and faster. You don’t need to, but it speeds up the process.

That’s one way to grow more greens for winter salads instead of buying plastic bags where the greens probably cost less than the container. Another way is to grow them in a greenhouse, but that’s a slightly more expensive proposition and you will need to heat it unless you are growing spinach and other hardy greens.

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