Fall is a great time to grow salad greens. The weather is cooler, and lettuce and spinach prefer this and grow quickly without becoming bitter.
Plus, they have a lot of frost tolerance, perhaps more than I. I am not interested in rigging up plant covers while wearing a wool coat and gloves, or digging carrots during the first snowfall. Instead, I have found a quick way to grow soil sprouts indoors on windowsills. This adds a touch of green to a room and yields a constant supply of fresh salad makings.
My guru is Vermont author Peter Burke. I use and recommend his book, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 Days.
Burke has invented and refined a method of growing sprouted, healthy, delicious greens indoors with no expensive equipment. The salad veggies he grows are like microgreens but are harvested sooner and at a smaller stage. He mainly uses plants that have large seed leaves, like sunflowers, and are not bitter.
They are not sprouted in water, but soil, so he calls his salad greens soil sprouts. His special idea is to grow the seeds in soil, like micro greens, but let them sprout in the dark to develop longer stems, like regular sprouts. He gets a long, juicy sprout with a couple of green leaves on top. He grows them on windowsills, which gives them enough light to green up but not so much that they become bitter.
This is easier than growing sprouts in water; there is no need for soaking, rinsing, straining and draining multiple times a day. They are faster than micro greens and have longer stems. Burke’s soil sprouts have plenty of flavor and nutrition and look good. The seed hulls fall off as the sprouts grow. Seven to 10 days is all it takes from seed to harvest.
Organically, he grows enough soil sprouts of many types and colors to make salad every day for a big family, and still has time to teach, write and grow a garden. It is all spelled out in his book. I tried it and it is surprisingly fast and productive.
Decide on one or several types of seeds to grow. Soak a tablespoon of large or a teaspoon of small seeds overnight in a cup of water. Pre-moisten your potting soil overnight (a plastic bag is good).
To begin, add a pinch of kelp and a tablespoon of dried compost to each little seed tray. Then add moistened potting soil up to a quarter of an inch from the top of the tray.
Cut or fold paper to cover each seed tray. Soak it in water when you plant the seeds. Drain seeds and spread them evenly on top of the soil surface. Press soaked paper on top of seeds, touching them. Make note of planting date. Place in a warm, dark place.
Water just a little bit every day for four days. On day five, remove cover and place on a windowsill to grow and green up. Water as needed.
Cut sprouts just above the soil line to harvest greens after 3 or 4 more days, getting as much of the stem as you can. Wash, drain, and use. Some seeds, like peas and lentils, can grow for a few more days.
The used soil and roots from the tray can be used in your compost pile.
Plant a few new trays of seeds every day! Keep trying new things and tasting to find what you like best. Refine the method if your seeds are faster or slower.
Which seeds can you use? Most seed catalogs have a special section on seeds for sprouting. Health food stores, online stores and ethnic or grocery stores that sell bulk seeds, nuts, and beans are possible sources. I once sprouted a million mustard sprouts from mustard seed I got from an Indian grocery. They were strong and spicy but tasted great tossed in with hot pasta and Parmesan cheese.
Burke mentioned that he uses organic vegetable seeds left over from spring planting. So many times, I use part of the packet of radish, kale, broccoli or pea seeds and have leftovers in my seed box. Although some are viable for years, I never know which. Use them before they lose their oomph.
Certain seeds do not make good sprouts. Tomato foliage is unhealthy for you. I tried sprouting pumpkin seeds but they were awful. Sunflower seeds make good sprouts but when they make more than four leaves they get bitter. Bean leaves can be bitter, too—odd because bean leaves are a big treat for garden bunnies. However, red adzuki bean sprouts stay sweet and make good sprouts.
I bought seeds at Kitazawa Seed Company online and learned that a great variety of pea for sprouting and using as pea shoots is a garden favorite, ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar.’ When grown outdoors it has gorgeous red blossoms which develop into edible-podded peas for salad or stir fry. The seeds you buy can be used for either green sprouts or big plants.
If you start growing soil sprouts in fall, you’ll be used to having a rainbow of delicious salad makings on your windowsills by the time winter comes.