Until I moved to Indiana I thought of myself as a killer of plants. If anyone spoke of gardening I would back away horrified, explaining that my green thumb was black. I had left a trail of dead houseplants across three states, and I could only imagine that a garden would mean large scale plant destruction.
Then we moved to Indiana for my first “real” job as a university professor and we were living in a “real” house. Not a tiny apartment where you could literally hear your neighbor blow his nose in his kitchen while you were doing dishes, not a duplex, not a loft, a real house complete with a deck. Our backyard was a gloriously shady space perfect for matches of extreme bocce, but didn’t get enough sun for a garden. Our deck, on the other hand, was perfect for container gardening. So off I went to the local warehouse store for plastic gardening containers, and a local nursery for bags of soil, seeds and seedlings. And I didn’t kill anything. In fact, things grew like magic. The pictures I used here are all from my current two salad garden containers, both of which sit atop a deck railing, leaving more room for our deck set and bbq… and toddler play area.
This amazing assortment of lettuces all came from the same packet of seeds. I believe this was a “gourmet salad mix” and contains both green and red salad greens. My favorite is the Red Oak Lettuce that you see popping up on the left side of this image. Needless to say when I’m “thinning” my plants I tend to leave the Red Oak to grow taller and rip out everything around it to eat first.
The most magical of all the containers in my deck garden was the one for salad greens. This was the one that I had the least hopes for, and had simply filled it with dirt, drizzled some seeds over it, mixed my seeds through, watered it and moved on. It ended up being the most amazing of all the boxes. The greens grew like mad and were gorgeous to boot. The “moral of this story” is that this is one of the easiest ways to garden that you can do. Even if you have no space for a garden, maybe you have corner by your front door where you can stash a small garden pot or a window where you can hang a basket or but a box in, you can grow your own lettuce.
For this salad I used primarily the assorted greens “thinned” from my containers. That just means that there were too many seedlings going in the pot so they can’t all grow well. So I ripped out the seedlings that were growing too close to bigger plants, ripped off their roots, and created an amazing microgreens salad. I’ve done this for weeks. As my larger plants get enough room I’ll stop ripping them out and start simply snipping off a few leaves around the edges and keep going from there. This salad also had the flowering ends of some of my herbs, particularly the oregano.
If the easy factor isn’t convincing you to try this, lettuce is also one of the more expensive vegetables to buy in the grocery store, as well as being one of the most chemical treated if you can’t afford the organic varieties. If grown conventionally (with pesticides, etc.), lettuce is nearly impossible to truly clean, meaning that with your salads you are eating traces of whatever chemicals, fertilizers, and insecticides they sprayed on the fields. If you grow your lettuce at home you control what is sprayed onto the leaves, how long it sits in storage, etc. It’s a win, win.
This particular salad day coincided with the blooming of my first nasturtium blossoms (yes, they are edible) and the fact that my basil plants were trying to bloom so I pinched off the blooming tips and into the salad bowl they went.
If you are willing to give this a try, here’s what you do…
- Fill your container with dirt and sprinkle the lettuce seeds more or less evenly over the surface. Gently stir your fingers over the dirt to barely cover the seeds with soil.
- Water your seeds and keep the soil moist as you wait for the magic to begin.
- As your lettuce grows and starts to fill the container you can start thinning your plants. On the packet of seeds it will tell you how much spacing between plants you should have, which will likely be a couple of inches. As your plants grow start pulling those that are too close together, tearing off their roots, and washing them up nicely to eat with your dinner. Your “thinning” of the extra seeds ends up being a series of amazing microgreen salads.
There is something amazing about having a still sun-warmed salad with your dinner on the sun-bathed deck. Give it a try and happy gardening!