Growing your own food can be very rewarding. It not only saves money, it's also fun. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shortages have emphasized the fact that being able to provide some of your own food during times of crisis can be an important skill.
You can harvest baby leafy greens within 2-3 weeks. Be sure to let a few plants grow to full size for harvesting later.
Use shallow containers with drainage holes. Seed-starting trays are good. Clean take-out containers with drainage holes poked in the bottom also work well.
A sunny indoor location that gets at least four hours of sunlight for pea shoots, six hours for microgreens, and about twelve hours for lettuce is the ideal spot for them. For best results indoors, use a grow light to maintain consistency.
If you have raised beds, take advantage of their earlier warming to plant outdoors.
Most greens are cold-hardy and can be safely planted outdoors 2-6 weeks before last frost. However, be sure to have protective covering, such as a row cover fabric or a cloche, on hand in case of a cold snap. They add warmth and speed germination.
10-15 Days: Microgreens
(broccoli sprouts, photo mine)
(mung bean sprouts)
After moving to California a number of decades ago, microgreens were one of the first foods I grew. They're easy to grow indoors, and there's a wide variety of seed and bean choices available for sprouting. Whichever you choose, you'll have exceptionally nutritious results in just a few weeks.
Cover the bottom of a shallow container with 1-2" of moistened potting soil. Flatten gently to even the surface, but don't compact the soil. Scatter seeds on top, press gently into the surface and cover with a thin layer of soil. Cover the container with plastic wrap. Mist once or twice daily until germination.
Once seeds have sprouted, remove the cover and continue to mist daily. You can harvest your sprouts with snips or scissors when they reach about 2” tall, or after the first set of true leaves appear.
Sprouting trays, like mine above, are available online. I purchased this one from SproutPeople in the late 1970's and still use it. However, you can also make your own from a quart jar and a mesh lid.
14-21 DAYS: Arugula and Pea Shoots
Spicy arugula and spring sweet pea shoots are ready to harvest a few weeks after planting. They're excellent in salads, sandwiches, wraps, as well as topping pizza.
Arugula has a peppery flavor and smell. It's often found in mesclun salad mixes to give them a little kick. Plant arugula seeds 1/8” deep; lightly cover with potting soil. Arugula can be densely planted and thinned with each harvest. Plants in each subsequent harvest will be larger. If you're using a multi-cell seed tray, sow additional seeds in the empty spaces to begin your next crop.
Pea shoots require fewer hours of sunlight than many greens, and are a good choice if you don’t have more than a few hours of sunlight indoors or in your yard. Soak dried pea seeds in water for 24 hours. Fill a container with moistened potting soil. Since you will be harvesting the shoots, you can sow seeds densely across the top of the soil. Cover with ¼” layer of soil and sprinkle the surface with water. Continue to keep the soil moist until the shoots are 3-4" tall. To harvest, pinch shoots just above the bottom leaves.
25 DAYS: Baby Leaf Lettuce, Spinach, Radish Greens
Leaf lettuces are easy to grow and available in many varieties. Harvested young, the leafy tops of radishes and beets are also a tasty addition to salads.
When selecting lettuce seeds to grow indoors, choose loose leaf varieties like Baby Oakleaf, Tom Thumb, and Black-Seeded Simpson. If you're growing indoors without ideal sunlight (12 hours), try varieties known to do well in winter light, such as Arctic King, Winter Marvel, and Winter Density. A grow light provides the best results.
Moisten seed starting mix or potting soil and fill containers 3-4". Scatter seeds on top, about an inch apart. Cover the seeds with a very thin layer of the growing medium. If you're using a multi-cell seed starting system, plant three or four seeds in each cell.
Place your containers in a warm, sunny location (ideally 12 hours of sunlight). Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a lid to maintain moisture. Once sprouts appear, remove the cover and thin the seedlings so they're about an inch apart. Keep moist. Harvest outer leaves first, allowing inner leaves to continue growing.
(Red Malabar spinach on my deck)
Spinach is a cool-weather crop. You can plant directly into the garden or outdoor container 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. To get faster and better germination, soak seeds for several hours before planting. Plant them ½” deep, covering with additional soil. Keep moist, but not wet, until germination.
Harvest spinach like you would lettuce. Either cut off all the leaves about an inch or so above the soil level and let the whole plant grow back (this technique will generally produce two or three crops) or harvest the largest leaves as needed.
Harvested young, the leafy tops of radishes and beets make a tasty addition to salads and pesto. The radishes themselves can be harvested within 3-4 weeks after planting, depending on the variety.
Radishes can be sown outdoors 4-6 weeks before the last average frost date and germinate quickly. Sow seeds ¼-1/2” deep and about 1” apart. Thin to 2" apart after sprouts appear.
30 DAYS: Baby Kale and Swiss Chard
Kale and chard are chock full of nutrition, and are delicious raw in salads or cooked in soups, sautées, and quiches.
Swiss chard is easy to grow and one of my all-time favorites. Seeds are tiny, so you'll need to thin seedlings as they grow.
Plant chard seeds ½” deep in potting soil, covering with a layer of the soil, and water gently. If you're planting outdoors, wait until a week before your last spring frost date. Swiss chard is frequently a heavy producer.
Kale can be planted outdoors up to 6 weeks before the last spring frost. If you leave any plants to harvest later, mulch them with straw or shredded leaves to keep soil cool and moist. Plant seeds as you would chard. Kale can also be grown as microgreens.
(Swiss chard; photo mine)