This time of year, the seed catalogs arrive on your doorstep, with their enticing pictures of vegetables, herbs and flowers. If you are like me, you want to plant one of everything, and you want to do it NOW! How can you possibly wait ‘till spring?
Actually, you don’t have to – because you can plant some vegetables right now. All you have to do is sow seeds in a window box in a well-lit window, or under fluorescent or special “grow” lights.
Not many vegetables are suited for indoor growing. Those that can grow inside include leaf lettuces and other salad greens, like mild or spicy mesclun. Basil and chives grow well in a windowsill garden, too. Just imagine harvesting a succulent salad from your own window box, in the dead of winter. Yum!
Mesclun is the French provincial term given to a mixture of tender lettuces and greens. Fancy restaurants feature mesclun on their menus, and grocery stores sell it for an exorbitant $8.99 a pound. It’s pricy in stores because each leaf is harvested by hand and is highly perishable – so the mesclun must be flown in for quick sale.
Mesclun is really best eaten fresh-picked. And it’s just about the perfect vegetable to grow yourself: it’s easy to grow, the seed is cheap, it yields over a long period of time, it doesn’t need cooking, and it’s nutritious and delicious.
You can purchase mesclun seed mixes from a number of seed catalogs, like Seeds of Change, which promises “A potpourri of color, shape, taste, and texture,” or John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, “Spice up your life with this fast-growing, tangy mixture of salad greens ideally suited to scissor-harvest as baby leaves.” Or you can make a custom mesclun by blending the seeds of several types of lettuce with other greens to suit your family’s taste.
Here’s how to start your indoor greens garden:
- Start with a window box or a large, shallow pot filled with light-weight potting soil. Add an organic slow-release fertilizer. Water thoroughly. Scatter seeds over soil and press in lightly, covering very thinly with soil or vermiculite. Place in a cool, well-lit area until the seeds germinate.
- Mist the soil daily until the first sprouts appear. Thin the seedlings to stand a couple of inches apart.
- Give your plants bright light for at least six hours a day. Placing the pots directly on a south or west facing windowsill will provide enough light. So will an east or north window that is augmented by an inexpensive florescent shop-light light fixture.
- Water regularly. Rapid growth is the main requirement for tasty, tender lettuce greens, and since lettuce plants are shallow-rooted, the bed will need to be kept moist but not saturated.
- Harvest when lettuce plants are 3-4″ tall. This should be about 30 days after sowing. Harvest with scissors. Cut the outer leaves, taking care not to damage plant crowns from which new growth will emerge. Ten days later, harvest the same plant again. Three to four cuttings are normal per plant before it is depleted.
Use the lovely leaves to make your favorite salad. And when the temperatures stay above freezing for a while, you can plant some more outdoors!
Happy indoor gardening,