After a ridiculously mild December – nearly sixty degrees for several days in Northern Illinois – winter finally seems to be here. And all I can think about are green salads. Frisee, butter lettuce, baby kale, tender herbs… and the world is covered with snow and ice. Definitely not salad season. Or is it? No, I’m not about to cave in and go to the store for some random bagged salad mix from thousands of miles away. So how does one have a locally grown salad in winter? You grow it yourself, naturally.
Winter sowing greens indoors is probably one of the easiest bits of indoor gardening there is. With proper lighting and nutrients, you can be harvesting fresh greens, herbs and scallions in a month’s time. For lettuces that are small and suited for container growing, varieties like Tom Thumb or Tennis Ball are great choices – they’re basically “single serving” salads. They can be easily sown in a salad bowl – I like to have a layer of pea gravel on the bottom and then top with potting soil. Sow the seeds lightly on the surface and cover lightly with a little more soil. Cover with a lid or pane of glass (cheap picture frames from the dollar store are great for this) to create a greenhouse until the seeds germinate. Once germinated, set in a sunny window and in a month’s time or so you’ll have fresh greens.
Hopefully you’ve kept some potted herbs growing in your windowsill all fall and winter, but if you haven’t, I’ve seen some grocery stores that sell small potted herbs in the produce section, and those can be had in a pinch to grow in the kitchen. Scallions are exceedingly easy to grow indoors, and you don’t even need to pot them in soil and you can regrow scallions from the store . Simply leave an inch or so of white part with the root, and set it in a glass of water. In a week’s time, fresh greens will sprout for cutting. Just change the water every day or so to keep it fresh.
So with only a little effort and a sunny window, you can have fresh salads even in the coldest days of winter. And with no fancy cold frame or greenhouse required!