With this technique, you can grow all the salad greens you need with a kitchen cupboard and a windowsill.
A very simple idea put me on the path toward growing a year-round indoor salad garden: I wanted fresh salad greens throughout winter. This desire occurred to me one fall afternoon as I was putting my garden to bed and planting my garlic for the following year.
With a pantry, cold cellar, and freezer full of the season’s harvest, the one thing that was missing in my larder was fresh salad greens, there is simply no way to store them. So I experimented with different techniques, and what I discovered exceeded my expectations and eventually became my book Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. I can now grow all the salad greens I need for my family of four with a kitchen cupboard and a windowsill, I don’t need lights, special equipment, or a greenhouse.
My wife was used to me harvesting a wide variety of unusual salad greens, so when I started to harvest sunflower greens, pea shoots, buckwheat lettuce, and radish greens, she wasn’t too surprised, just amused. I call the greens “soil sprouts” because they grow quickly like traditional sprouts grown in a jar, but are grown in soil instead. The soil allows me to grow seeds with hulls, such as sunflower and buckwheat seeds, and maintains enough moisture for the plants to grow, so I only need to water once a day. If you’re thinking you can’t follow suit because you don’t have a big window with southern exposure, don’t worry, you don’t need it. One of the places I grow my greens is in a small northern window. My daily harvest is about 14 ounces of greens from five small 3-by-6-inch aluminum bread pans. Occasionally I use a larger 4-by-8-inch bread pan when I want a double batch of greens.
Most of what you’ll need to grow soil sprouts is probably already in your kitchen. I have two boxes with sturdy lids that I use to organize and store all my indoor garden tools. One is my seed box, in which I store my seeds, measuring tools, and cups for soaking the seeds. The seed box must remain completely dry, I don’t place anything wet or even moist inside the box, to ensure good germination of the seeds. I keep about a two-month supply, or 4 cups each, of sunflower, radish, buckwheat, and pea seeds, and about 1 cup of broccoli seeds and a few other specialty seeds. I also have a few containers of seed mix; I like to mix them together and plant them in one tray. This works well for a small garden for one or two people.
The other box is for soil and the stuff I use to plant the seeds. I have 2 gallons of a germination mix, sometimes called a “sterile mix,” composed of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. This is the very same mix gardeners use to start sets and potted plants. I mix 1 quart of water to 1 gallon of the dry soil mix before planting. I have two 1-gallon plastic containers for the soil mix, a 3-cup container of compost, and a 1-cup container of sea kelp meal. I also keep scoops, measuring spoons, and a few trays for planting. Because the soil mix is moistened, this entire box is damp and thus not good for seeds. You could use a cupboard or a closet the same way, but our kitchen is small, and having all my tools and supplies in these two boxes allows me to move them into the kitchen for my daily plantings and then back to my office.
How to Grow an Indoor Salad Garden
With this simple process, you can go from seed to salad in 7 to 10 days, but don’t mistake your indoor salad garden for a “toy garden” , it’ll be deceptively productive. If you were to plant an acre of these little trays, the annual yield would be far more than you could eat! If you’re considering reducing your carbon footprint or eating local, this is a simple and rewarding way to accomplish both.