Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easier Than You Think: Growing Mesclun

It is one of those days when Spring seems to not want to follow through on its promises, which Spring has a tendency to do.  It is 46 degrees and raining cats and dogs.  The bedroom was too warm all last night, so I didn't sleep well, but my office is too chilly this morning (and I'll be darned if I am turning the heat on and risk super-heating the bedroom).  It will be too rainy this afternoon to bike to my second-shift job, so I'll miss out on that little mind-clearing break.  I'm worried that the rain will cause the seed potatoes to rot in the ground, and they are too expensive to replace this year. 

Thank heavens for the sunroom. In it, my seedlings and lettuces are safe, warm, and growing.  And the easiest indoor crop of all is the greens that we all crave this time of year, as our bodies wake up and demand fresh vitamins for the challenges of longer days and greater movement.

I point this out because I have recently read several posts from different bloggers bemoaning how difficult or scary it can be to grow lettuce from seed, so they resort to lettuce starts from the garden center.  Kudos to these urban farmers for growing their own crops, but lettuce is one of the easiest, most fool-proof things to grow from seed.

Above, you have some mesclun I ordered from Burpee for $4.50.  I just threw the seeds into one side of an indoor raised bed we have, covered them up, and watered.  Bingo, mesclun sprouts.  And no, I won't worry about thinning these; as soon as they are big enough to start cutting, that will take care of the thinning for me.  (Most of the plants in the mesclun packet -- the word means "mix" -- are "cut and come again," which means they will put out new leaves every time you cut a few.)  Add three or four small side salads to your diet, and the pack of seeds will have paid for itself.

So yes, if you are scared of starting plants from seed, definitely go get plants to get you started.  But trust me, lettuces really want to sprout and thrive in any sunny room or windowsill, so pick up a seed packet instead.  Save your plant-buying money for the tomatoes or other plants (and then try those from seed later).

The Analysis

Fast:  I think planting mesclun took me less than 5 minutes, since I rotate crops through that indoor raised bed and leave the soil pretty much intact.  (I do add compost once in a while.)

Cheap:  Three to four side salads or one or two dinner salads, and you have already recouped the cost of the seed packet.  I promise you will get a much bigger crop than this, too.

Good:  There is nothing like having greens that you cut only minutes before you eat.  Yum!
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