Grow Great Greens – Indoors!

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,


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14 Responses to “Grow Great Greens – Indoors!”

  1. 1

    I have never grown anything to eat indoors, but this seems like a simple idea that even a college student could afford! I may give this a try. Thanks!

  2. 2

    Yes, as long as you have sufficient light, it should work. Good luck!

  3. 3
    Adelaide Stephens

    This the first time I looked at your Blog and found it very informative and interesting.

  4. 4

    I tried growing lettuce in pots outside but never inside. Might try this! Thanks for the information and the links too!

  5. 5

    What a great idea! I have some leftover mixed lettuce seeds from last summer that are now calling to me. What depth and width is ideal for the container? Thanks for the information! Now, how much will my cat like this?

  6. 6

    Kathy, the plants are shallow rooted, so a shallow pot – wider than it is tall – works better than a deep pot, that can stay wet at the bottom while dry on top. That’s why a window box is ideal, or any pot that is between 3-5 inches tall. I just planted a mesclun mix in a decorative pot that’s 10 inches wide and 5 inches tall, to grow in my kitchen greenhouse window. My cat ignores plants, but I used to own a cat that would try anything – it all depends on their personality!

  7. 7
    Naeem Shahrestani

    Wow this is very interesting. A couple of urban planners including myself are working on growing some fruits and vegetables outside of DAAP. We’ll be the first trying to create a community a garden on campus, in which we could emphasize on locally grown food. I’m wondering if we could even grow these greens somewhere inside of DAAP.

  8. 8
    Dominic W.

    If i am growing these near a window and the weather is exceptionally cold, will it effect the growth of the plant? Or is some sort of artificial warmth required? I guess what I am wondering is, what is the temperature range for the best result?

  9. 9

    Dominic, lettuces and greens are what we call “cool-season” plants – they will grow right through a frost outdoors, and even a light freeze – but are killed back by hard freeze. Basil, on the other hand, likes it warm.
    A bigger problem may be if the area adjacent to the window gets too hot from radiant heat from the sun. It can get surprisingly hot, even on a cool day. You should watch out for that, and perhaps use a fan – to redistribute the air a bit – if necessary on a really sunny day.

  10. 10

    Naeem, I’m really excited about that project and hope to be helping out as a volunteer “coach” or consultant. Yes, it is possible to grow greens indoors under lights. We can discuss this more . . .

  11. 11

    For someone interested in living in an apartment, who is also intrigued about growing edible plants, this is a phenomenal article. A lot of people assume that they are giving up the ability to grow plants when they live in a home without a yard, however, this blog post shows that it is not only possible, but easy as well.

  12. 12

    I planted mesclun seeds indoors 2 weeks ago. They sprouted and are now just under 1 inch (no ‘true’ leaves yet). One by one, however, they seem to thin out at the base of the stem and fall over. Is this part of a natural thinning-out process? I mist everyday – the top of the soil has not dried out and they are in deep pots so they are not waterlooged either. Any ideas what is causing their collapse?

  13. 13

    You are describing “damping off”. One of several diseases infects the seedlings at the soil line and the plants fall over. You are likely keeping the seedlings too wet, since the disease organisms need water to take hold. I would start again, with clean (sterile) soil, and this time cutting back on watering just as soon as you see germination. It is a balancing act between too wet and too dry. You can also help avoid damping off by providing plenty of light and perhaps an oscillating fan to increase air movement around the seedlings. Good luck!

  14. […] the weight off this winter by growing mesclun greens in the convenience of your own home. Start with a window box and organic fertilizer, and place the […]

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