Baylee Rose Drown of Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme grows microgreens. Aside from fresh taste, colorful appearance and the bragging rights that come along with indoor-grown veggies, Drown says they are "4 to 40 more times nutrient-dense than full grown greens." Pictured are microgreen basil (left) and (right) microgreen cilantro. (Photo by Baylee Rose Drown
Fresh Greens and Tomatoes: Can You Grow Your Own?
Published Nov 12, 2014 • Last Updated 04:25 pm, November 11, 2014
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Most of us surrender our favorite garden foods with the turn of the calendar. But there are indoor growing options, from easy microgreens to more demanding salad greens and, finally, complex-but not impossible-indoor tomatoes. "Winter sun doesn't give us enough hours of direct light through most windows," says Sandra Merrill at Hart Seeds in Wethersfield. "But crops like microgreens don't suffer from lack of sun since they are cut before they require much of it." She says that one of Hart's most popular recent products is a microgreen mix called "Veggie Confetti." Baylee Rose Drown grows micro-greens for restaurants and farmers' markets at Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme. She says the term "microgreen" refers to a very specific moment in seedling development when they are less than 2" tall. Since microgreens are best fresh, Drown takes trays of live plants to markets and harvests while customers wait. Kale takes only 8 days, and arugula only 10, says Drown, while colorful chard and beet greens are ready in 14 to 21 days. There is only one harvest per tray, though, so plan on new seeds every week. Most greens need light to germinate, so newly sprinkled seeds are barely covered with a dusting of soil. Keep them moist but not wet. A spray bottle filled with rain water is an excellent water source. Drown's favorites are a mustard green braising mix and All-star Lettuce Mix from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Full-sized salad leaves and herbs are more complex than microgreens. Indoor-growing expert Ginger Booth of Branford says they need 12 hours of light daily and she describes several clever set-ups in her comprehensive guide, Indoor Salad (2013). The printed book and a Kindle version are available online. And while you're choosing a light set-up, Booth says you'll need to make a decision, too, about the growing medium: Hydroponics versus potting soil. "Most people won't be satisfied with the 45 or more days it takes greens to mature in a potting mix," says Booth. "With hydroponics, I grow enough basil to make pesto in three weeks." Hydroponic vegetables grow in water and liquid nutrients, which usually include non-organic substances. While some people resisted hydroponics in the past because of this, Booth says that effective organic nutrients are now on the market. She was successful with those sold by Urban Farm Fertilizers, for instance. Whether growing in soil or solution, Booth says to use rainwater, not tap water, for indoor growing. Booth highly recommends "crispy" greens because they withstand the low humidity of most homes. Her favorite varieties include Nevada summer crisp, Korean red or green lettuce, and Little Caesar romaine. She also grows a lot of basil. As for tomatoes, Hart's Sandra Merrill points out the importance of seed selection. "The 'bush type' or small cherry tomatoes do okay indoors as long as their growing needs are met," she says. "Any dwarf works better for most homeowners than full sized." When you harvest a tomato, of course, you are harvesting a fully ripened fruit. "These plants go through every stage of plant development-germination, vegetation, flowering, immature fruit growth, and mature fruit growth," writes Ginger Booth, who goes on to describe how she harvests Beefsteak tomatoes. Given the complexity of the topic, I recommend reading Booth's book or searching online for "indoor tomatoes." You'll find advice and insight and maybe even harvest your own fresh salad during the cold months ahead. Kathy Connolly is a landscape designer, garden writer, and speaker from Old Saybrook. She has had indoor success with the tiny cherry tomato, Red Robin, Tom Thumb lettuce, celery stalks, and parsley. Email her at email@example.com.