It’s Earth Day Monday and summer’s coming! To celebrate, why not grow your own salad?
My motto of keeping things simple extends to growing things. In this article, I’ll introduce you to 4 different types of edible growing I’ve done myself, and I’ll provide options for everyone whether you live in an apartment or have your very own patch of soil.
Surprisingly, growing your own salad greens can be super simple. And very cost-effective.
I have a background in horticulture and worked for a botanical garden for a few years. I even used to grow out the plants from seed to supply for a demonstration veggie garden. But don’t let that fool you. I’m a lazy gardener. I’ve been neglecting veggies in my raised beds for years and still getting yields.
For the Apartment:
If you don’t like sprouts, and I admit they aren’t my favorite, this can be a really simple way to grow a nutritious mini salad that is also quite tasty.
You can grow dozens of veggie types microgreen style, including beet, radish, broccoli, kale, chard, arugula, basil, and bok choy. These delicate little plants have an intense flavor profile with the concentrated taste of the mature version. You only need to add a few pinches of mustard or radish to really make your salad pop. And arugula – wow – a single pinch tucked in a collard wrap leaves a big impression.
At the same time, you can make an entire salad out of the more mild microgreens like broccoli or kale. They also work great as the “green” in your green smoothies.
Microgreens are essentially baby plants, just one or two weeks old. They are different from sprouts in that they are grown in soil or a soil-like medium so they don’t have the same salmonella contamination risk as water-grown sprouts.
How to Grow Microgreens
Do yourself a favor and start with an easy, fast-growing microgreen like broccoli. It’s among the most common sprouting seed for sale, has a high germination rate and good yield, and is less finicky than other microgreen types. Broccoli is also possibly the most nutrient-dense.
Kale also gives you good bang for your buck – easy to grow with great nutrition. Once you’ve mastered broccoli and kale, add mustard to your repertoire for a nice zip. You can purchase all types of microgreen seed online at Amazon or other retailers.
You will need:
broccoli seed – get the kind specifically for sprouting
black plastic flat – no holes in bottom
potting soil – we use coconut coir which is similar to peat moss but more sustainable
lid – for seed germination, to keep moisture in and light out; I just place another black plastic flat on top
spray bottle – for misting the seeds to water
- Fill the flat about 1/2 to 1 inch deep with moist potting soil.
- Sprinkle seed evenly across entire surface.
- Mist until fully wet then put lid on to keep moist and dark.
- Continue misting daily to keep the seeds moist until they germinate and grow to about a half inch.
- Once the first leaves emerge (not true leaves, these are called cotyledons), remove lid and place flat in a spot that gets some light. You can use a grow-light or sunny windowsill.
- The plants will start to green up and you can harvest them when they are a little over an inch tall.
To keep this article from turning into a book, I’ve kept these instructions short just to introduce you to the concept. I can provide more detail if people are interested.
Post in the comments if you’d like to see a full article on growing microgreens complete with photos and growing tips based on experience.
If you’re in Las Vegas, get in touch with Urban Hydro Greens to find out when they are teaching a class. The owners, Nickie and Dennis, are friends of mine. They are dedicated to education and totally willing to help you along. After my husband and I took the class, we went right home and started growing our own microgreens immediately! Each full-size flat harvests about 4 ounces of microgreens.
For more information:
Urban Hydro Greens – local Las Vegas microgreen business; buy a kit, attend a class, purchase microgreens
How to Grow a MicroGreens Vegetable Garden Year Round Inside Your Home – John Kohler’s video
Microgreens may be new on the scene, but sprouts are the original indoor salad. They are hardier than microgreens and lack the delicate flavor nuances and intensity, but they are even simpler to grow. All you really need are seeds, a mason jar, and a piece of cheesecloth with a rubberband to secure it over the mouth of the jar.
I don’t purchase them from the grocery store anymore because their water-based growing conditions can make them prone to contamination with salmonella or E. coli (the growing style of microgreens keep them safe from this risk). Grown at home, you can control the quality and cleanliness of your sprouts.
I’d suggest starting with something simple like alfalfa and, like with microgreen seed, purchasing actual “sprouting seed” from a reputable company.
Since there is plenty of great information online on how to sprout, I’ll let you check out this article for instructions: Sprouting How To.
For the Windowsill or Patio:
Potted full-sized plants aren’t any harder to get set up than microgreens. Once you have a watering routine established, they can be pretty much low-maintenance, especially herbs. You can just harvest a little or a lot as needed.
All you really need is water, full sun, and an occasional nutrient addition. They can be grown on a sunny windowsill or patio. I have basil growing right now indoors under a grow-light. And I have done many herbs in pots outdoors.
Some of the easiest herbs that I’ve grown in Vegas are rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sweet marjoram. Lemon balm is another great one, and it comes up every year in my veggie bed without me ever planting it. Though this makes me smile, that might make it a weed in less severe climates, so beware. I have a nice patch of lavender, but I’ve never really had awesome success with it.
I’d suggest saving yourself the effort and purchasing starter plants from your local plant nursery. Most herbs are perennial, meaning the same plant can be harvested from for a few years. They are also typically a little more drought tolerant and love the sun. Herbs are great for hot desert cities – the Las Vegas Valley even has a local herb farm!
For the Veggie Bed:
To tell you the truth, in Vegas we are NOT excited about summer. Earth Day is only a reminder that it’s coming and to cherish the beautiful spring days. Yet, for temperate zones, summer is the time to be outdoors, and people traditionally grow all their veggies during their region’s “growing season”.
Raised beds or not?
Many enjoy veggie gardening more when they use raised beds – easier on the back, you don’t compact the ground by stepping on it, etc. And in Las Vegas’ alkaline, caliche-ridden, clay desert soil, the benefit of raised beds is that you can fill them with garden soil mixed specifically for veggies, and, truthfully you will probably get better results. Depending on where you live, you can get this delivered from a local company.
Still, raised beds are not necessary. Another simple way is to make a berm by adding mounds of that same specially mixed garden soil on top of the existing soil. This way you don’t even have to construct the frame for the bed. I’ve also actually had great results before just by amending the existing garden soil – of course that was an area which had been under grass for fifty years of fertilization and cultivation.
This is not the place to go in full-on detail about veggie gardening, but I don’t want to leave you hanging either. If you live in the desert, check out this guide from the Las Vegas Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners – Becoming a Desert Gardener. The last page has a list of what months to plant which veggies in the garden.
Greens for Temperate Climates
For those of you that live in a temperate zone, you can start your own greens right now! In the hot desert, most typical salad greens won’t take the heat so you gotta wait ’til fall.
Try lettuce, chard, kale, and cabbage.
In hot desert cities, you can have veggies in the ground year-round. Plants may go dormant during the summer heat and winter lows and you need to change out what you grow based on the season – we have a warm and cool growing season.
March through May are planting months here for warm season veggies. It’s not too late to get some veggies in the ground and enjoy your bounty this summer!
Here are some salad fixing with good yields that are worth trying your hand at:
These can be prolific producers.
Use a spiralizer to turn into zucchini spaghetti. Check out my zucchini pasta article. Or you can just use a peeler to make strips. Zucchini is also great for blending with other flavor ingredients to make salad dressings – it adds a creamy texture.
These are typically vines and will take up some space so be prepared with a trellis if you want it to climb upwards and don’t have a lot of ground room for it to spread.
Dice or slice and toss with lemon juice, dill, and diced tomatoes for a cucumber salad.
Growing tomatoes in the desert is a little different than other places. First, you should choose cultivars that are better adapted to our hot summers and will even produce in the summer.
My tomato selection has been pretty haphazard and I can’t provide the best recommendations, but this year I started some seed that has performed well for years for our local “Tomato Lady” and I am hopeful that I will get the promised crop throughout the summer. Crossed fingers! Usually, my tomatoes go on hiatus during the hottest months of July-August.
Check out this website for workshops and more info on growing tomatoes in desert heat.
Make fresh pico de gallo or dice up into salad. Garden-ripened tomato slices eaten plain are delicious! Instead of adding salt, test out other seasonings in your spice rack to see what you like. Or top with fresh basil leaves.
As long as you give it the water it needs, basil will take off and become a monster, even (and maybe especially) in the desert summer.
Use it to make homemade pesto or garnish your summer salads. Try a small amount in a green smoothie to give it a little zesty kick. Here’s a low fat raw vegan pesto recipe. I haven’t tried it yet, but her stuff is usually pretty good.
Parsley will go dormant in the heat of the summer, but right now mine is going crazy. I keep it in the ground year-round.
Make your favorite tabouleh recipe but sub. cooked quinoa for the bulgur wheat. Or just use parsley as your salad green and chop up very tiny. Come to think of it, I should have a parsley salad for dinner tonight!
For more advice, John Kohler’s got tons of free veggie gardening videos online including many specific to Las Vegas. Check out his Growing Your Greens YouTube channel.
I hope I’ve shown you that growing your own salad doesn’t have to be intimidating. If you’re excited about getting your hands dirty or just want to save some money, one of these options will get you started. Let’s recap the four methods I covered in this article:
- Potted Herbs
- Veggie Garden
Now step away from your computer and get started!
But first, it’s your turn. What’s your favorite way to produce your own salad? Got any questions about how to do something? I’ll answer as best I can! Post it in the comments.