By Sidra Forman, Best Life chef
June 24, 2010
Looking for a fun, interactive way to improve your health? Grow your own salad greens. It's not too late to get in on the 2010 growing season with this advice from Bob Greene and TheBestLife.com.
I must confess that I get excited about growing anything, especially if it's edible. But out of the many things I grow, salad greens are my favorite. Homegrown greens taste better than store-bought, and they're much less expensive. Plus, they're easy to grow and you see the results so quickly—seeds often sprout in a matter of days if the weather is warm. It's even possible to grow them year-round in parts of the country (I grow them from April through October here in Washington, D.C.). That's why I always suggest greens whenever someone wants to start a garden or only has the time or space to grow one thing.
So how do you do it? Follow these five simple steps to get your garden growing:
Pick Your Spot You can plant seeds in the ground, in a pot or in a sunny window box. No matter where you're planting, it's always important to start with good, healthy soil. If you're planting in the ground, mix some compost into the existing soil before you begin. If your soil is very clay-like or sandy, it might be necessary to add some soil as well as compost. Both soil and compost can be purchased at garden centers, many hardware stores and big-box home goods stores.
Turn the soil over by digging down at least 4 inches to make sure it's not overly compact before starting to plant. If you're using a pot or box, fill it with fresh potting soil to begin.
Select Your Seeds Most seed packets come with good information on ideal growing factors, such as light and temperature. Look for seeds that match the light conditions and temperature of your area. All greens need sunlight and most prefer direct sunlight, but some will do just fine with sun only part of the day.
Timing is also important. Certain greens—such as spinach and arugula—thrive in the cool early spring and fall but hate the summer. Others, like mizuna and some varieties of romaine, prefer the heat of the midsummer. It's important to go with one specific type of lettuce; planting single varieties together makes it easier to weed, monitor and harvest. If you have a large pot, it's fine to plant half with one type of lettuce and the other half with a second type. In the ground, you can do several types of seeds, but again, be sure to organize them by type for ease and highest yield.
Get Planting Sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil. A good guideline when planting seeds is to cover them with soil as deep as the seed is big. Lettuce seeds are very tiny, so gently rubbing your hand over the soil after sprinkling the seeds on top will do the trick. After planting, your seeds need to be watered thoroughly but gently. Use a spray attachment for a hose or a watering can that pours in a spray rather than a stream. The plants need to stay moist and will need to be watered daily or every other day depending on sun, heat and rain.
Watch Them Grow Most greens will start to sprout within five to 12 days. In warm weather, baby greens will generally be ready to eat in two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half weeks; more mature greens take an extra couple of weeks. I find that if I gently cut baby greens with sharp scissors, new baby greens grow back and are ready for me to cut again within a matter of weeks. Usually after two or three cuttings, it's necessary to dig up the plants and start all over again with fresh seeds. If you're growing larger heads of lettuce, they will take anywhere from 30 to 50 days to mature. When they're ready, pick the entire head—roots and all—turn the soil over, add a little more compost and start again with fresh seeds.
Enjoy! Your homegrown greens will make a delicious salad on their own when lightly dressed with oil and vinegar. Or, you can try them with any recipe that calls for salad greens.
For more healthy-eating advice—and tasty ideas for those garden greens—visit TheBestLife.com.
Do you have any tips for growing greens—or recipes for enjoying them? Share your best advice in the comments area.