– by Carol Jensen
As we all know, the fresher our leafy greens, the more nutrient-packed and healing they are! As the price of produce, especially organic produce, increases in the stores along withthe cost of rising oil and shipping prices, more people are turning a page back to simpler times and learning to grow their own leafy greens at home.
You don’t have to have a green thumb to grow greens inside your home as well as out in your yard, regardless of whether you live in the country or the city. Gardening in order to procure your own fresh lettuce, spinach, chard, collard, kale, beet greens or more exotic wild leaves such as dandelion and sorrel is fun and easy. Here’s how!
Growing Your Own Greens Outdoors
Outdoors, leaf vegetables can be started as soon as the ground is workable, since most greens tolerate cooler temperatures well and actually tend to turn bitter when summer heat is strongest. By planting in early spring and again in late summer, you can enjoy two harvests in one season.
Once the leaves are large enough to enjoy in a salad or smoothie, cut the outer ones with kitchen shears and leave smaller ones to mature. Most greens are “cut and come again” vegetables, meaning they will continue to grow new leaves until they are frost-killed. So from just a few seeds, you can enjoy a continuous yield over many months. Once your leafy vegetable bolts (sends up seed stalks), uproot it and replant fresh seed.
If you are growing your leafy plants outside, then pots, window boxes or garden beds work equally well, as long as there is at least 8 hours of sun a day in your selected location. Some afternoon shade may be desirable in hotter climates.
A general rule for determining how deep to plant your seed is to bury it twice as deep as the seed is wide. So for a large seed like chard, put ½” of soil over the top of it, but for tiny lettuce seeds, a sprinkle of dirt over the surface will suffice. Make sure there is a foot of soil beneath the plant so it can send down deep roots, and be sure to leave enough space between seeds for the plant to mature to its full size unless you don’t mind thinning a few weeks after germination.
All seeds will germinate faster if they are soaked in pure water for a few hours before they are put in the ground. Then just keep them evenly moist, not saturated, throughout their growing season. (You know soil is wet enough if it feels like a damp sponge when you press your finger against it.)
The best soil for any vegetable is the kind that is loose, loamy and drains well. It shouldn’t pack into hard clods or clumps or be so sandy that all moisture drains away before the plant can absorb what it needs. You can amend both compact clay and overly sandy soils by adding any organic material (manure, leaves, grass, kitchen scraps, etc.). You can also add liquid fertilizer such as kelp if the plant’s leaves seem pale or yellow.
Growing Your Own Greens Indoors
The same rules apply for planting indoors except that you will probably have to add artificial light. Even the sunniest of windows usually don’t see more than six hours of direct sunlight daily.
I use fluorescent shop lights that I mount on cupboards above my counters. That way I can spread my plant pots across the counter surface and have light directly above them. A shop light with a chain is handy so you can raise the light source as the plants grow taller. To be most effective, indoor lighting should not be more than four to six inches from the leaves.
The advantage to growing indoors is that you can garden year round. Since greens don’t depend on pollination like many garden foods, all you need is light, moisture and moderate temperatures to maintain them.
Of course, you may opt to garden outdoors when you can, just to add some vitamin D to your diet or to have the pleasure of running your toes through the dirt as you pull the occasional weed. Either way, you’re sure to have a delightful time watching your baby greens mature and you will certainly have the freshest leaves anywhere in town.
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TODAY’S “GREEN BUZZ” TOPICS
- What are your best outdoor gardening tips for growing greens?
- What are your best indoor gardening tips for growing greens?
- What would you tell people who are just starting out with their very first indoor or outdoor garden?