You might think I’m strange, but I get excited about growing lettuce in winter.
Right about Valentine’s Day I start to crave homegrown salad greens. I’m not talking about the store-bought, stale greens that travel thousands of miles to your plate.
I crave the heirloom varieties that are sweet, spicy and maybe a touch peppery.
This is why I grow lettuce in winter.
I think salad greens are best in the early spring or late fall when the cold weather brings out the flavor.
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I eat them mixed with good olive oil and a little lemon juice. I can just taste them now. The craving is so strong it must be because I have a mid-winter vitamin deficiency of some kind.
It might be worse this year because I’ve been reading Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest. He talks about growing hearty greens using unheated hoop houses, cold frames and row covers, plus much more on organic gardening.
Growing lettuce in winter without a hoop house
Normally, I would grow lettuce in the winter in my hoop house. Unfortunately, I took down it down just after Thanksgiving. I did it because the arugula, beets and radishes were no longer growing.
I didn’t realize you could over-winter greens in a hoop house and they would start growing again about Valentine’s Day. After reading Four-Season Harvest, I know better.
With winter sowing, you don’t need to wait for the ground to thaw to get started.— Suburban Hobby Farmer
So, with no hoop house, I’m left with two options to satisfy my craving for home grown greens:
Option 1: Winter sowing greens outside on top of the literally four feet of snow in my yard.
Option 2: Growing lettuce inside, under the lights.
Option 1: winter sow salad greens
If you are not familiar with winter sowing, it involves germinating seeds and growing plants out of doors during winter using mini-greenhouses made from recyclables.
There are no heating devices, no energy wasting light set-ups or expensive seed starting devices.
Most frequently, gardeners winter sow flowers, transplanting them into the ground when the weather turns consistently warm. The seeds are sown in the cold of winter. The mini-greenhouses give the plants a head start similar to starting plants indoors under grow lights.
I’ve looked around the Internet and haven’t found many people winter sowing salad greens. Maybe this is because greens are started pretty early in the spring anyway. Or it’s because growing salad in winter isn’t as enjoyable as doing it in the spring.
I started salad greens in a cold frame last year. The lettuce and arugula did great. I’m hoping that I can get an even earlier start this year because, with winter sowing, I don’t have to wait for the ground to thaw and dry out.
Option 2: growing lettuce under lights
The idea of growing salad greens in unused space under your seedling starting lights comes from Jeremy at GrowBlog. It’s a novel idea that could save you money if you already have the appropriate potting soil and your grow lights are already turned on.
Jeremy got the idea from his supermarket. In the UK, supermarkets have begun selling living salads –baby leaf salad sold like fresh potted herbs. The supermarket salad grows right up until the day you cut it for the plate. A small tray costs about $3.
Here in the States, they do the same thing with herbs.
Jeremy says that growing salad greens under the lights is much easier than growing them outdoors. There are no weeds or pests.
But is it cost effective? If you use leftover potting soil , leftover seeds, recycled pots and the grow lights are already on, it is cheaper than store-bought greens.
Winter sowing has a couple of advantages over growing salad indoors.
First, winter sown plants almost never experience problems with dampening off.
Second, winter sown plants don’t take up valuable real estate under the grow lights.
On the other hand, I’m sure that winter sown greens will take much longer to grow to maturity than those planted inside.
No matter which method you select, the salad will taste better than store bought.
Related articles that might interest you:
- Extending the Season with Walls of Water
- How to Grow Carrots in the Winter
- Grow a Million Cucumbers in a Hoop House
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