I’ve become fascinated with the resurgence of the Victory Garden. I think everyone has the idea that it would be nice to get your salad from your own backyard, patio, or balcony. And the truth is you can. And people long before us did it. In fact, there was a time our Grandmothers (or great grandmas) were encouraged to do it.
With all of us learning more about our food, we realize most of it comes from farther away than we thought. A friend of mine has frozen organic strawberries from Serbia! I’m sure I have something like that lurking in my freezer. Thinking only about organics, can lead you a long way from home.
At a farmers market you can usually get the best of both worlds – local and organic. But not everyone lives close to one. Most chain groceries are starting to label where the produce was grown. But some places have gotten in trouble for labeling non-organic food organic. Sometimes it’s nice to just know what you put in the food your are eating.
Before I sound like a seasoned gardener, let me tell you each year I try some new things in the garden. Sometimes they work, other times they don’t. But either way I learn something and have an excuse to spend more time outside.
Last year it was raised beds for the first time, and this year I’m adding a bunch of containers to allow me to plant more vining plants like sugar baby watermelon and round zucchini. Could I tell you which plants will make it to my table? Not really. I have a good idea, but sometimes it’s up to the squirrels or the bunnies to decide for me. I’m just a brave newbie, not a master gardener.
If I can manage to do it you certainly can. There are some great resources on the web and one of my favorites is You Grow Girl. There are great articles and tons of forums for any location or interest. There are even grow alongs where everyone agrees to grow a certain item and talk about it. The Garden Girl is a great source for how to videos and she is in an urban area to boot. She does more in her urban garden than I thought possible. It has inspired me to think of ways to better utilize the space I have.
At the very least you can grow a “salad bowl” in the smallest of spaces. Organic lettuce can be expensive and it goes bad quickly. Lettuce growing in a bowl is cute and you can cut 1/3 of the height of it, make a salad, and in a few weeks it’ll grow back and you’ll have some more! This will keep happening until it “bolts”, or tries to go to seed. Once this process starts the lettuce will be to bitter to eat. To delay this you may need to put it in the shade once the temperatures stay above 80 degrees, so the heat doesn’t trigger the bolting. This article from the Washington Post explains this more thoroughly and gives you some ideas on how to prolong your harvest.
You can either drill holes in an old wooden salad bowl (try thrift stores), or get a bowl shaped planter – they are shallow so you don’t need as much dirt. All dirt is not equal and you will need to go buy some potting soil.
At the store they will sell top soil, garden soil, etc – but potting soil is created to hold water a little better, because containers dry out faster than something that’s in the ground. So make sure your bag says potting soil. You can make your own if you want, here’s an article with soil recipes. And nowadays you can find organic potting soil even at Lowes or Home Depot.
You can get some mesclun seeds (A blend of different salad seeds mixed together) or other loose leaf lettuce. You can find these at any drugstore to gourmet online stores like Cook’s Garden. If you choose to order your seed, try to get a variety that is more heat tolerant like Red Sails. That’s the variety I’m trying this year in my raised beds. The Cook’s Garden lists the varieties by season.
So now that you have your pot, fill it with your potting mix. Liberally sprinkle your seeds in an even layer across the pot, then cover with a little more soil and water gently. You will need to keep the soil moist while you are waiting for the seeds to germinate. It took about 10 days before most of mine sprouted up, but it won’t be long till that will be my dinner. And there is nothing better than eating salad that you grew yourself.