Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winter Greens

Another blah January day. Well, actually, the sun appears to be trying to come out, but no luck. Anyway, after hanging with my friend and picking up my half of our shared pig (I have a freezer just a'bursting with pork!), and a hearty breakfast-lunch, I decided I had to accomplish something that I have been putting off and putting off for a bit.
It's time to start some winter greens!
About this time of year, I start pining for fresh salad greens and little crunchy pea shoots. Oh, I love me some pea shoots. Of course, there's snow and ice and frozen ground to be had outside, so I opt to grow some indoors. It's pretty easy, and I am sure you could do this on your countertop as long as you had some light for the little seedlings to respond to. Here's what you need:
Seed Starting Mix. I recommend using an organic blend, so check out what your local shop has available.
Growing Dishes. These tin cake pans come with a clear lid--it's like a little greenhouse, just for your winter salad to grow in! Those plastic square bins that lettuce mixes come in work great too.
Seeds. Take your leftover lettuce seeds, or wander past those seductive seed displays and grab some packets. I love mesclun, and maybe I'll have luck with baby spinach too. I recommend using sugar pod or sugar snap pea seeds if you are going to grow some pea shoots. You can eat the other kind (shell pea), but sometimes they have a bitter bite to them. Great if you love bitter, but to me peas should taste green and sweet.
Once you have all your stuff assembled, you can get your winter greens supply started in just a few easy steps.
Step #1: Dampen the Seed Starting Mix.
Dump out your mix into a handy tub, and add a little warm water. How much water? It depends on how dry your mix is. I recommend adding a little slosh at a time and then mixing well using your arm/hand. Add more water until it feels a little moist, not powdery or sloppy mud. Also, I keep my mix in the house near the heater for a week or so, to warm up the "soil temperature". Seeds like warmish soil.
Step#2: Make drainage holes.
Pretty self explanatory here. Channel your inner knife thrower and have at it.
Step #3: Put soil in container.
I put an inch or two in the bottom of the container, a little more for deeper containers like a plastic bin or something.
Step #4: Sprinkle around seeds.
Very lightly sprinkle seeds around the container. I go a little lavish, but keep in mind these are going be grown as baby greens (some people call them micro-greens) so planting a little thick is okay. You eventually just trim them with scissors when you want them for salad or cooking.
Step #5: Mist with water.
I don't recommend using a watering can, as that tends to flood seeds and move them out of place. So find a clean mister and spray until the surface is damp.
Step #6: Pop on the plastic cover.
Using the plastic cover helps to hold in the moisture, which is great because you don't want to overwater or have everything evaporate. The little greenhouse I use actually gets pretty warm with the lights turned on and the opening zippered closed.
Step #7: Place under your lights/in a warm spot.
Technically, until they germinate, seeds don't need light. But some lettuce seeds do like light, so I opt to park them under the low wattage florescent bulbs I picked up cheap at a large box store. I hang them using garden twine, that I tie shorter as the seedlings grow. I'm also experimenting with a seed starting heat mat (thank you, Christmas Gift Card Fairy!) this year, and I'm excited to see if it speeds up the development of my mesclun lettuce mix.
I can't wait for that first bowl of salad...

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