Imagine every time you crave a fresh, flavorful salad, all you have to do is walk over to your year-round indoor salad garden and cut some greens. It’s super simple to get started with this indoor gardening project and have fresh leafy greens all year. Eating healthy has never been easier. Get the kids involved in this engaging project, and who knows, they may start requesting salads for dinner!
Gardening from seed is a low-cost, low-maintenance plan to stay healthy and have fresh lettuce, microgreens, and soil-sprouted greens all year. Lettuce, kale, spinach, and other leafy vegetables are at your fingertips whenever you want them. Robust, diverse salads with homegrown greens are no longer just a Spring or Fall treat! All you need is a windowsill or shelving, a proper light source, and lettuce seeds. Indoor gardening is a great hobby or endeavor during the long winter months. Starting a salad garden is also a great way to get creative and try new things. There are so many options; the salad is only as boring as the seeds you plant!
How to grow a year-round indoor salad garden
Indoor salad gardening was popularized by Peter Burke, who wrote a phenomenal book which I highly recommend titled “Year-round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days.” It goes into super scientific detail on growing with little to no investment in lights, pumps, or even a greenhouse. His methodology covers a technique of growing a soil sprout, and people love it simply because the results are quick and tasty! A year-round salad garden is an excellent method to enhance self-sufficiency, reduce trips to the grocery store, save money, and ensure your family is getting the most nutritious food possible.
Read more on Peter Burke and his book.
How Much Can I Grow Indoors?
A lot will depend on your available space and access to a bright sunny window or grow lights. However, a set-up with 4-6 trays of plants will provide hearty fresh salads several times a week for two people for up to six weeks.
Getting Started: How To Grow Salad Greens Indoors
To be successful, it is essential to choose the right indoor spot to grow greens. If you are relying exclusively on sunlight, you’ll need a bright south-facing window. If you will be using grow lights, there is more flexibility in where you locate the garden. Salad greens grow best with 10-12 hours of bright light every day. Look around your home; is there a place where you can set up a table or shelf that gets this much light? Also, the spot should be away from cold drafts and heat sources, as they may negatively impact plant growth. And, of course, keep the plants up and away from curious pets and children!
How to Create an Indoor Salad Garden
Equipment & Tools Needed
- Flat, shallow grow trays with drainage holes. Or, individual 4-6″ plastic containers or pots. Recycled plastic produce containers are an excellent, budget-friendly option; just make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom.
- Saucers to place under the trays or containers to catch water overflow.
- Seed starting mix (do not use potting soil or regular garden soil, these are not good for starting seeds)
- Seeds – You can use any leftover lettuce, greens, and herb seeds from the previous year, or buy Heirloom lettuce and leafy Greens Seed 8 Variety Pack, or use both. Loose-leaf lettuces are best since they mature quicker and will grow again after being harvested. Don’t throw away old beet, broccoli, bean, or pea seeds. They may still be viable for growing microgreens or soil sprouts. We hate seeing seeds go to waste, and even old ones may produce great sprouts.
- Grow lights – This is only if you don’t have a good, large south-facing window to use. Or, if you want to add additional plants and don’t have space. The great thing about using grow lights is that you can set your garden up anywhere in the house. LED grow lights are the best option. You can use grow lights and hand-water your plants, or you can go to the next level and start a simple hydroponic system.
Growing Lettuce and Salad Greens
- Mix the seed starting potting soil with water until it is moist but not soaking wet.
- Fill the containers or trays with the soil.
- Gently press the lettuce seeds into the soil mix. Lightly cover the seeds with soil, creating just a thin layer of soil on top.
- Cover the trays loosely with plastic wrap, making sure there are vents for fresh air to come through.
- Place the trays and containers in a warm, well-lit location — in front of your south-facing window or wherever you have decided to set up your indoor garden.
- Every day, lightly mist the top of the soil with water. Do not let it dry out, but also, don’t water it so much it gets soggy. Check for sprouts when you water.
- Once the lettuce sprouts appear, remove the plastic wrap.
- If you are using grow lights, turn them on in the morning, and turn them off at night. Do NOT leave them on 24/7. The conditions need to mimic the natural world as much as possible. Lettuce seedlings need 10-12 hours of light and 10-12 hours of darkness every day.
- Thin the seedlings so they are approximately 1″ apart. This ensures the lettuce plants have enough space to grow. Use scissors to snip the seedlings off at the base without disturbing the other seedlings that are staying. Don’t toss the rejects! — Rinse them off and add them into a salad as microgreens.
- Mist the soil every day to keep it damp, but don’t waterlog it.
- When the seedlings reach 4″ tall, they are ready for harvest. This takes around 3-4 weeks, depending on the varieties.
- Trim the leaves at the base of the stem, leaving 1″ behind. Do not pull up the leaves; this kills the plant. New lettuce leaves will continue to appear for a couple of weeks if the roots are left intact and healthy. Harvest only what you will use at one time.
- To have continuous and plentiful fresh greens, plant new seeds every 3-4 weeks. As one set becomes ready for harvest, new ones will be starting.
What Are the Best Fresh Salad Greens to Grow?
- Beet greens
- Bok Choi & other Asian Greens, like Tatsoi and Mizuna
- Leaf lettuces
Microgreens are immature versions of salad green and vegetable plants, harvested within 3-4 weeks after planting. Microgreens aren’t limited to lettuces and leafy greens. Some popular microgreen options include beets, cabbage, broccoli, mustard, cauliflower, chia, pea shoots, and edible flowers. These are amazing to use when creating the perfect fresh salad, providing a diversity of tastes, colors, and textures. Many microgreens, like pea shoots, are also incredibly nutritious.
Growing microgreens is one of the simplest gardening techniques. They don’t require much work, and you’re rewarded with a harvest quite quickly.
- Follow the instructions above for starting lettuce and leafy green seeds, thru step 8. Do not thin the seedlings!
- The main difference between growing mature salad greens and microgreens is harvest time.
- Once the microgreens get their true leaves and are around 2″ tall, they are ready to harvest.
- Use scissors to cut the greens at the base, right above the soil line.
- Use any harvested microgreens immediately, as they do not store well.
- Many microgreens will regrow after cutting, so keep checking the containers even if you harvest the majority of them.
- For a continuous supply of microgreens, start new seeds every 4 weeks.
What Are the Best Microgreens to Grow?
- Pea seeds/Snap peas
- Broccoli seeds
- Adzuki beans
- Chickpeas (or Garbanzos)
- Buckwheat seeds
- Beet seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- French lentils
- Mung beans
*Do not plant tomato, green bean, or pumpkin seeds for microgreen sprouts. They do not taste good. Sunflower greens get bitter after four days, so be sure to harvest those sooner rather than later.
Alternate Microgreen Growing Technique
(called Soil Sprouts by Peter Burke)
This method produces microgreens with longer stems that look more like sprouts. The main difference between sprouts and microgreens is that sprouts are grown in water while microgreens are grown in soil. Also, the entire sprout is eaten, including root and stem, while microgreens are harvested at the base, leaving the roots in the soil. This alternate growing method combines the two techniques to create a hybrid, soil sprouts or soil sprouted greens. These microgreens hybrids are grown in soil, but they are started in the dark like sprouts, which produces longer, plumper stems.
- Soak 1-2 tablespoons of seeds overnight.
- Fill planting trays or containers with pre-moistened seed starting soil.
- Drain the seeds and press them into the soil.
- Soak several paper towels and place them on top of the soil, covering the seeds.
- Put the entire tray in a warm, dark place immediately.
- Every day, mist the top of the paper towel until it is wet but not soggy.
- After the tray has been in the dark place for 5 days, remove the paper towel and move the tray to a warm, well-lit spot, like a windowsill.
- In 4-6 days, the growing soil sprouts are ready to harvest. Use scissors to cut the microgreens at the base.
- Since soil sprouts grow so quickly, plant new seeds every week for a continuous sprouting harvest.
- Try different seeds and discover which ones you like best.
Pea sprouts and bean sprouts are wonderfully nutritious, providing antioxidants, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Folate, and protein. They are also crisp and crunchy and add the perfect texture to a fresh salad.
Four Tips On How To Grow an Indoor Salad Garden Successfully
- Location matters, especially with an indoor garden. If you don’t have a bright south-facing window, plan on using grow lights to provide the plants with the necessary warmth and light. Because winter days are shorter and therefore there won’t be as much sunlight, most indoor gardens will need to supplement with some type of artificial light.
- Keep a grow log, calendar, or journal to record the start dates of each tray of seeds or soil sprouts. Once you start to grow soil sprouts regularly, it is easy to forget what is in each tray! Invest in some tray labels; you won’t regret it.
- If your lettuce seedlings are leggy or yellowed, they need more light.
- Never let water sit in the saucers underneath your trays or containers. This leads to an overly soggy soil mix, rotted out roots, and stunted or no growth.
Year-round indoor salad gardening isn’t just a great way to have incredible fresh greens all the time. It’s also a gardening adventure with lots of possibilities, and it’s a wonderful way to get kids involved in growing food. It’s great for the adults too! A harvest of sprouted greens in less than 10 days means quick rewards for the effort and a constant supply of fresh greens for the ultimate salad experience.