Grow Your Own Salad: It’s Easier Than You Think!

If you have a complete set of salad bowls and they all say Kool Whip on the side, you might be a redneck. –Jeff Foxworthy

I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again. Even if you think you have an ordinary beige thumb and are destined to kill every plant that comes into your possession, there are some things even you can grow! If you would like to give gardening a try, this is a simple place to start. If you are already a seasoned gardener who invests a great deal of effort every spring and you are aching to get started, this will tie you over until the weather warms. I’m going to show you how to plant a salad box!

This grow box with the very large reservoir is what I like to use for tomatoes and peppers but since I’m between seasons, I’d like to do something with it. Recently this box had a harvest of hot and spicy Jalapeños but alas the plants became leggy and anemic looking as the weather changed and they were spent. Sometimes you can cut the stems, leave them there, and watch them regrow later (in mild climates you can do that); but I would rather start seeds in my windows and have fresh plants in the spring because they will likely be more fruitful. I was reading about crop rotation and there is a more thorough way to do it but for my purposes I’m going to have a short rotation to refresh my soil. If I simply replant peppers in this box over and over, any soil born disease or pests that have begun to take up residence will be encouraged to stay. If, however, I place in this box plants that are from a different plant family, these pests may become disinterested and find another place to go. In India, farmers plant a wide variety of crops close together and they don’t use pesticides. As a result, their plants are not pest free, but the pests don’t have opportunity to have a stronghold. This is what I want. I also get a little bored. So, this why I planted salad ingredients.

By the way, if you don’t have a grow box, don’t let that stop you. You could plant any of these items with a little soil and a container that says Kool Whip on the side! 😉 Just poke holes in the bottom of the container and you’re set; it’s really that easy! But seriously, the grow box does make gardening very easy (http://www.agardenpatch.com/)

DSC05017 DSC05018 DSC05019 DSC05020

I planted five different things in rows within this grow box. One row of green onions, one row of garlic cloves, one row of Mesclun seeds, one row of Simpsons Elite lettuce seeds, and one row of Arugula seeds. I planted everything about a week and a half ago and here is what it looks like today.

DSC05110

The Green Onions and Garlic Cloves from my kitchen scraps grew very fast! They are some of the easiest plants I’ve ever grown.

DSC05112

The Arugula was faster at sprouting than the other two but I see I few tiny sprouts in there.

How to:

The Green Onions were originally bought at the store and we used almost all of the green leaves in our cooking leaving behind just some of the end with the roots. I poked them into the dirt in a row and I was done. I broke off a few cloves from a head of garlic and poked them into the soil in a row with the pointy ends facing up and I was done. For each set of seeds I sprinkled them in a row directly into the soil on the pot and lightly brushed them around that row in the dirt and I was done. The seeds don’t even need to be completely buried because they are so tiny. The furthest you would plant them into the soil would be ¼ of an inch so really no digging is required.

In this chilly but sometimes warm and sunny weather, lettuce grows easily. It’s not hot and it’s not freezing but we still get a little sun so the seeds will sprout quickly and the lettuce won’t get scorched. Just water when the soil looks dry. Usually in cooler weather, the soil stays moist longer so you won’t have to water as often. Another great thing about the lettuce is that you don’t have to wait for it to grow into a head in order to harvest it; baby leaves taste great! The Onions and Garlic should deter spider mites and aphids plus they grow easily and compatibly with the salad greens. The green leaves that sprout above the garlic cloves are also edible and have a mild garlicky taste the way chives have a mild oniony taste. Part of the fun with growing salad is that you can grow varieties that you don’t get at the store. I also find that I’m more likely to eat it when I grow it. It’s much fresher tasting when it comes from my balcony than it is from my fridge. If I forget to water the plant and it dies, it will still have lasted longer than the lettuce in my fridge. Finally, there is no guilt if the plant dies in a few weeks because you know it’s a short growing season and you were able to enjoy a harvest in no time at all. It’s a win, win, win scenario if you ask me!

My final tip? Watch for skinny stems and tiny flowers that may sprout from the plants (lettuce, onions, and garlic). If you want to extend the life of the plant, cut those stems off before the flowers dry. If you want to collect seeds to plant again someday, watch those cute flowers turn into seed heads and gather the seeds before they blow away!

Have you tried growing any salad greens? What have you learned? Do you have any great recipes you’d like to share or feedback on my salad box strategy? Please leave me comments and share your experiences or questions!

The Very Hungry Caterpillars

“In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly.   But with humans it is the other way around:  a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.”
-Chekhov

It all started with thin webbing appearing my okra, the irrational bolting of my basil, and then thin webbing on my basil. At first glance, it was obvious that the webbing was not a standard spider’s handiwork. I feared the similarity it had to spider mite damage but the webbing was on top of the leaves instead of underneath; plus there were holes in the leaves under many of the webs. If it wasn’t spider mites, what could it be?

DSC03195

DSC03167

Then I found them. An infestation including dozens of tiny hungry caterpillars on a single small basil plant. I was mortified. What kind of negligent gardener had I been to not notice these critters earlier when I had spotted webbing on okra? I really thought that the basil was just bolting from heat and didn’t realize it had the added stress of being chewed on.

DSC03193

DSC03194

I think I was also simply unconcerned about the Basil being susceptible to pests. Basil is often used in companion planting to deter pests from other plants. Many strongly fragranced herbs are not insect targets due to their pungent aroma. Had I thought to carefully inspect this plant from time to time like I do with my other plants, I might have avoided losing as many tasty leaves as I did.

So it was time for organic pest control. I don’t know what type of caterpillar they were but I knew they were causing significant damage. I picked each one I found off of the plant with my shovel and flung them off my balcony. Forgive me if that sounds inhumane, but they were devouring one of my precious culinary delights. Usually, the advice I read for controlling caterpillars, slugs, snails, stink bugs, and the like involves a dish of soapy water they drown in. I rationalized that butterflies are friends but their larvae can do significant damage to a food crop so I pitched them downstairs where they could eat grass and become butterflies. It seemed like a good compromise to me.

Additional measures of natural pest control were in the form of cleaning my balcony. Many pests hide in plant debris and start to congregate in areas that have been stagnant, so I swept and got my bucket of very hot soapy water and washed down the patio. It’s also nice having the area clean.

I would really enjoy creating a blog post about making basil ice cubes for later use and saving basil seeds; but unfortunately the very hungry caterpillars put a damper on that plan. After eradicating the pests and cleaning up, the plant may still put off some goods after all but more on that later. If you want my advice, stay ahead of the bugs with periodic leaf checks.

Still undeterred by pests,

Marissa