6 Tips for Growing Indoor Salad Sprouts
Growing your own indoor salad sprouts is an easy way to enjoy fresh, nutritious greens all winter long!
Even if it’s too cold outside to grow fresh salad greens, this doesn’t mean you have to subsist on bland supermarket salad mixes all winter! Growing your own indoor salad sprouts is a great way to enjoy fresh, nutritious, and delicious salad greens year-round, without any special greenhouse or equipment needed.
In his book, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, gardener Peter Burke describes his innovative method of growing fresh salad sprouts indoors. This method is easy for both new and experienced gardeners, and you can do it no matter where you live. Peter’s book explains in detail how to master his simple method.
The 6 basic steps to success are listed below, and you can check out his book for specific step-by-step instructions:
1. Water the Seeds First
Presoaking gives the seeds a jumpstart before planting. Usually, seeds must soak up enough water from the soil to initiate growth. Depending on the environment it might take days before the seeds even begin to sprout. Although soaking is common to hasten the process of growth for large seeds, with soil sprouts all of the seeds are soaked first, regardless of size. This step is a key to realizing the “fast growth” found in indoor salad gardening.
2. Plant on Top of the Soil
Planting the seed on top of the soil also saves a day or two because the stem and leaf don’t have to push up through the soil. It also prevents the seed hull and leaves from being covered in soil and keeps the sprout cleaner. Cleaner stems and leaves mean there’s less of a chance the plants will develop damp off (a disease that quickly kills young shoots) or mold, and the greens are easy to clean at harvest time. If you’ve ever cleaned fresh greens from the garden, you’ll appreciate this aspect of soil sprouts.
3. Seeds Are Touching
…By planting the seeds so close that they touch, I get the maximum possible harvest of greens from the smallest possible area. The seed has only enough room to send a root down into the soil and a stem up toward the light, but this is entirely adequate for the short “growing season” of shoots.
4. Grow in the Dark
…For my traditional garden I use lights and a cold frame or a greenhouse to give young plants plenty of light in the early stages. But soil sprouts are grown for the stem and first leaves of the plant only, and the first few days of darkness encourage a long stem to grow by “forcing” the seed to search for light. Outdoors, in more hostile conditions, a seed stem may have to make its way through a pile of leaves or straw before it comes out of the dark. The simulated darkness of a tray with paper covers takes advantage of this natural urge in plants to search for light. It encourages a very productive harvest. Total darkness isn’t necessary; even low-light conditions will do the job of forcing the sprouting seeds to develop long stems in the first stages of growth.
5. Plant Every Day
For a steady supply of greens from my indoor salad garden, planting every day is key. I routinely start small batches of seeds, about 5 tablespoons (74 ml) spread over five trays each day. So every day a batch of seeds planted a week ago are coming to harvest. And I know just how many trays I’ll need, week to week, harvesting just what I need each time. I want my indoor salad garden to remain small and manageable, not large or time-consuming.
6. Harvest More from the Seed
As I explained above, my objective when growing sprouts in soil is to encourage rapid growth of the stem and a large seed leaf (called a cotyledon). This allows me to harvest nearly all of the stored nutrition from the seed. This general principle has been understood in Asia and elsewhere for many centuries. I was surprised to read an Italian recipe from the year AD 1624 that included radish sprouts, and the English have used cress sprouts for many years, too. Rich in vitamin C, cress sprouts helped sailors to combat scurvy on long voyages. For my indoor salad garden, I’ve included a variety of seeds and developed in-depth techniques to grow soil sprouts full time.