Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gardening Floyd: Growing Winter Salads Indoors

Out in the garden Swiss chard, cilantro, dill, and our perennial herbs are still thriving despite several really hard frosts and many lighter ones.  I'm sure that could end any day now but that doesn't mean it's the end of fresh greens.  Last February I showed you our seed-starting shelf and how we built it.  I talked about how we use it to grow greens in winter and today I want to show you how we set it up for that.

We are currently growing leaf lettuce mix, spinach, cutting celery, flat leaf parsley, rosemary, cilantro, basil, carrots, radishes, and golden beets.  Right now everything except the potted herbs is in the seedling stage.  The herbs are in regular pots having been transplanted out of the garden.  We grow the greens and veggies in 16 qt tubs from the dollar store, drilled on the bottom for drainage.

The tubs are filled 2/3 full with a mix of 1/2 part good quality potting soil, 1/4 part vermiculite, and 1/4 part peat moss.  The soil is dampened and allowed to settle before planting.

We suggest, in the case of veggies, searching out varieties that have been bred for container planting or to grow small "baby" veg.  Our carrots are regular size carrots which we will be harvesting very small but there are varieties out there such as "Parisian" which grow short and round and are perfect for tub culture.
These are the sprouted carrots ready to be thinned.  They'll be thinned down to one carrot per inch and allowed to grow on.  We'll begin harvesting them when they are about 2 1/2" long.  Radishes, carrots and beets have second tubs seeded and growing while the first tubs are getting large enough for eating.

The greens we grow are "cut and come again" types.  We plant them about 2 inches apart.  When the greens are big enough to harvest we cut them off at two inches above the soil and only enough as we need for a salad.  This usually results in half the tub cut while the other half grows and recovers.  A tubful of spinach, one of lettuce, and greens from the beets keeps us pretty well supplied.

When the seeds are planted the tubs are covered with plastic wrap to maintain humidity and secured with string.  The lids that come with the tubs are turned upside down and put under the tubs where they act as saucers.  We place the tubs on the top of the shelf where it's warmest until the seeds germinate.

Once the seeds have germinated the plastic is removed and the tub is placed directly under the lights (see the carrot pic above).  Keeping the lights as close as possible to the plants is important to help ensure stocky growth.

The lights we use are not grow lights.  They are standard fluorescent tubes, two to each fixture, one cool spectrum and one warm spectrum.  This provides the full spectrum of light the plants need at a much lower price than grow lights.  Keeping the lights as close as possible to the potted herbs is important for the same reasons.  The lights can be raised and lowered with chains and S-hooks and we use boxes and plywood board remnants to raise the individual pots and tubs as needed.
We water regularly as needed and feed sparingly once a month with a dilute organic fertilizer to keep plants healthy.  Once things get growing, this arrangement will keep us in salads until it's time to make way for the garden seedlings.


  1. What I wouldn't give to have just ONE sunny window!

  2. While the shelf is parked next to a window, it just happens to be the most out of the way spot in the living room as well. We're south facing with lots of sunny windows but none of them provide enough light to raise food plants. Or house plants for that matter. Maybe a fern or a philodendron. But you could put this shelf in a totally windowless room and raise lettuce just fine. If you lined the wall behind it with foil it would work even better!

    BTW, that photo of your blue cheese has me seriously droolin'!