Indoor Salad Garden

Winter Salad Garden

You can fight the winter blues by making your own salad garden right inside your home!  It doesn’t have to be fancy, doesn’t take up much room, and there are more possiblities than lettuce and herbs!
What you’ll need to make a DIY Winter Salad Garden
Most people have a sunny window they can grow at least a few small pots of plants on, so why not grow some nutritious salad greens?  You’ll need a few 6″ or larger pots or a shoebox sized plastic storage container, potting soil, liquid fertilizer, seeds water and some lighting that you can adjust the height on.  A timer for the light is a great addition.
What You Can Plant
For indoor vegetables, you’re working with two limitations: limited heat and limited sunshine.  With this in mind, you’ll have to set aside the thoughts of watermelons and other hot summer crops, but some of the summer staples can be grown successfully indoors, including:(cherry) tomatoes, peppers, peas, green beans and beets, as well as cooler weather crops such as spinach, radishes, and if you have the room, you can even grow bush varieties of squash, eggplant, and Swiss chard! I’ll be covering the vegetable portion on another page, but see the table below and check if your local stores have any seeds available, or go online to your favorite seed providor, or click on the links to go there directly.
A lettuce patch is quick growing, and doesn’t take up much room.  Starting one every week will allow you a home grown salad at least once per week for as long as you keep up with them.  Many leaf lettuces (as opposed to head lettuces) allow you to pick the more mature leaves and let the immature leaves keep growing, so you can have an endless supply of greens.  Three six inch pots, thinned down to five or six leaf variety lettuces can make you a nice salad (and you can eat the “thinnings”).  There are also “salad mixes” available in seed form, just like the supermarket bagged form, without the chlorine and the plastic bag!
If you have enough room, you can stack two small to medium sized storage containers who’s edges are no more than 6″ tall. Drill holes in the bottom of the upper container – big enough to let water out so you don’t drown your plants, and place it into the second one.  If you can get the clear variety, you’ll be able to monitor the water a lot easier.  Put an old towel or some cheese cloth in the bottom of the upper container to keep the soil from running out, add soil and you’re all set!
Indoor Lighting and Indoor Growing
Grow lights will be necessary, even if you don’t have a good south facing window, especially to get the seeds started. Supplementing the length of time the plants have light is easily accomplished with a shop light.  While there are specific “grow lights” available, I’ve found that the cool white lights have the same effect on the plants without the additional cost.  If you’re growing a small indoor garden, you can even get away with a couple of compact fluorescent lights as long as you have adequate coverage.  Incandescent grow lights can burn the plants and dry out the soil when you’re first starting the seedlings, so they’re not recommended.
When growing garden plants indoors, you’ll find you need to add up to one-third additional time to the maturity dates of the plants, so some patience is needed.  Also, as indoor humidity in the winter time is lower, you’ll have to watch the moisture levels of the soil – they can dry out quickly.  Fertilizing recommendations should be cut in half for two reasons:  you’re working within a small, contained space, so it’s easy to over-fertilize the plants (also known as “burning”), and since they’re growing slower, they also won’t need as much.
Starting the Winter Salad Garden
Once you’ve picked a spot and decided how much additional light you need, it’s time to start planting! Follow the directions on the seed packets for depth. Lightly cover (don’t seal) them with some plastic wrap to keep the moisture and humidity in your container, since the sprouts are vulnerable to drying out.  Check them every few days to see if they’re sprouting.  Once you see the first leaves emerge, it’s time to put them under your grow light.  If you’re using fluorescent bulbs, you should put the light about one inch above the foliage.  If you’ve either made or bought LED bulbs to use as grow lights, you’ll want to have them about one inch above the sprouts as well.  If there’s inadeqate light, your seedlings will grow long and weak, and topple over at the slightest breeze or watering.  You can get a good deal on fluorescent lights at 1000 OFF on Selected Compact Fluorescents when you use coupon code 83147, promo ends Jan. 31
Watering, Fertilizing and light adjustments
Watering seedlings is a delicate affair. a kitchen sprayer will uproot them and send them flying like a miniature tsunami, so it’s better to get a small watering can.  There are inexpensive bottle top sprayers available in the UK, or you can make your own by using a small drill (3/32″) and drilling a lot of holes in the top of a flexible water bottle. Another version you can make is by drilling holes in the bottom of the bottle, with a 1/4″ hole drilled in the top of the bottle.  You simply plunge the bottle into a pail of water, cover the top hole with your thumb, then when you want to water the plant, you lift your thumb and the water comes out.  Always use room temperature water, as cold water will shock the plants and set back their growth.

If you’ve got a soil mix that already has fertilizer in it, you won’t need to add any until the true leaves appear. The initial “leaves’ (known as “cotyledons”) aren’t leaves, but more like “food packets” to start the plant off with something while it creates it’s roots.If you’ve got a plain potting soil mix, add just 1/4 the amount of liquid fertilizer recommended on the bottle once, then wait for the true leaves to appear.   It’s recommended to use any fertilizer on seedlings at 1/2 strength.  Fertilizing once per week for the first six weeks, then backing off to once every two weeks.

The following weeks:

Thin out the weaker plants (consider them “salad hors d’oeuvres”), and let the stronger ones stay on and grow. If you’re growing leaf crops, wait until you have four or five leaves, then pluck off a leaf or two from each.  If you’re growing other types of vegetables, keep the light an inch or two above the leaves. I’ve found that I need two lights: one for the seedlings and one for the more mature plants.  You can also make “risers” for the seedlings to get them higher.

Favorite Winter Salad Plants from our affiliates:

Leafy Plants:

Lettuce, Butterhead Buttercrunch Cert. Organic Seeds, 6 Packets: JLettuce – butterhead, buttercrunch.

Rainbow Baby Greens Rainbow Baby Greens.

Gourmet Greens BlendGourmet Greens Mix.
Bell Boy Hybrid Sweet Pepper SeedsI’ve had good luck with peppers, but they come out very small.  Great taste, though.
Sweet Banana Sweet Pepper SeedsSweet Banana Peppers.
Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce The Classic: Black Seeded Simpson.
Detroit Dark Red BeetBeet Greens!  Save the bulbs for the outdoors and eat the tiny greens!
Lucullus Swiss Chard GreensSwiss Chard – if you have the room!  Baby Swiss Chard is also excellent.
Sweet Baby Girl Hybrid Tomato SeedsSweet Baby Girl Hybrid Tomato Seeds

Jelly Beans Hybrid (VF) Tomato Seeds Jelly Bean Hybrid

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