I started year-round indoor gardening early spring this year after I stumped upon and read Peter Burke's Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days. In stage I, I followed exactly as written in the book and found out what works and what doesn't for me. In this Instructable titled stage II, I show two elements of the practice I do differently from Peter Burke and the whole process documented.
The first element I do differently is the container. Peter mentioned in his book aluminum bread loaf pans were his preferred containers and he could reuse them for up to a few times. This was not true for me. Mine started to leak at the end of the 4-day incubation period. In this Instructable I show how to modify plastic window box with tray bottom to suit the year-round indoor salad gardening.
The second element I do differently is the material used to keep the sprouts moistened, in dark and gently suppressed (Where there is suppression there is oppression which means a push to growth in plants). In Perter's book, he placed a stack of wet newspaper on top of the trays to keep the sprouts moistened during the 4 days of "do nothing" time. Although he mentioned that today's newspapers are printed with ink made from soybean oil, still it's ink and I'm not a fan of it touching my food. So I opted to use fabric scraps from my sewing projects. They are new, washed, and 100% cotton. I cut them to 0.5" larger in dimensions than the planter box and stitched 3 layers together. They worked out great. Not only I don't need to worry about eating ink, they are also reusable to almost unlimited times. And I have a lot such fabric scraps from my sewing projects. So this is a small but win win win situation for me.
So far I have been really enjoying this gardening practice and will continue to scale up the growing. This gardening practice isn't hard. What's hard is to mess this thing up.
With that said, here are things needed to repeat my stage II year-round indoor salad gardening:
4. Potting mix
6. Sea Kelp
7. Cloth scraps
If you are new to soil sprouting indoor salad gardening and you don't have Peter's book in hand, Here are the detailed notes for some items: 1. The soil mix isn't the outdoor backyard soil, it's potting mix, usually made of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and lime. 2. Compost can be commercial or homemade. I just don't like the idea of animal manure compost. So I used organic mushroom compost. 3. Liquid sea kelp or dry kelp meal are both okay as fertilizer. 4. There are many sprouting seeds to choose from. Peter recommended 5 varieties of sunflower, pea, radish, buckwheat, and broccoli for a salad of great color, texture and taste. My favorites are sunflower, buckwheat, peas and radish.
Followed are the steps.
Note: This article may contain affiliate links as references for the same or similar products used in this project. If you click on the links and make purchases I could receive a small percentage of commission from the advertising company with no extra cost to you.
Step 1: Measure the Windowsill and Buy Plastic Window Box
My house has many windowsills of different width and the same depth of 7" for drop window or 6" if it has the turning handle for back and forth opening and closing mechanism. Buy plastic window box that will fit your windowsills and the key is to make sure they have the saucer or tray bottom to protect your windowsill from water damage.
Step 2: Modify the Plastic Box for Soil Sprouting Salad Gardening
Soil sprouting uses about 1.5" deep soil and needs a box about 2" deep. The Plastic box available is about 6" deep. In my first round using the plastic box, I used them as they are. As a result, I found I have patience for growing, no patience for reaching down a narrow box to harvest the produce. So I came up the idea of removing the top 4" of the box.
First I tried sawing which didn't work well.
Then I tried using high temperature electric stencil cutter. It worked. The only problem is the cutter is for cutting thin plastic stencil sheet. It took about 20 minutes to cut one box. While I was doing that, I had the idea of making wood box of 2" deep and sit them on plastic planter box tray. But I totally lack skills and tools in wood working department. The other factor to consider is the thickness of wood boards which make the growing space even narrower. So if you don't have a better idea of 2" deep windowsill box that has waterproof bottom, then follow the two simple steps to make your own.
First, mark 2" up from the box bottom all around.
Then, heat up the cutter and with a downward pressure cut all around along the mark.
That's all in it.
Step 3: Soak the Seeds and Moisten the Soil Overnight
How much seeds to soak depends on the box's growing area. In Peter's book, it's 1 tbsp for large seed or 1 tsp for small seed per 3" by 6" growing area. The way I do it is to loosely spread seeds at the bottom of the empty box since most seeds swell after soaking, measure the amount of it and record how much it is, record if that amount is just right, too much or too little and adjust the amount in later growing cycles.
To moisten the soil, add 4 cups of water per gallon bag of potting mix which is enough for 1 window box of 27" to 36" , close it for overnight.
Step 4: Plant the Seeds and Do Nothing for 4-6 Days
If you have a SUV and a tarp to protect the trunk or a garden work bench, it's better to do this step in the trunk at a standing position so you don't break your back. In the photos, I did it in my living room floor (at night) to be able to take pictures of the process.
In Peter's book, he added compost and sea kelp at the bottom of the box because fertilizers are for root, the better the root system is established, the better the shoots grow. But I always get too excited and forget to put them at the bottom, so I placed them on top and mixed a bit.
Fill the box with moistened soil up to 1.5"-1.75".
Crumble compost on top, 1tbsp of compost per 3" by 6" growing area. I just add 1-2 handful to 1 box.
Add in sea kelp, 1/2 tsp per 3" by 6" growing area. I just use the cap of the bottle and add 3 caps of it to 1 box.
Mix the mixture and spread them consistently to make a level bed for seeds.
Drain the water of soaked seeds, rinse it under room temperature water and consistently spread them on bed in single layer.
Gently press on the seeds to make sure they are in good contact with soil and moisture.
Wet the fabric cover in a bucket of gardening water, Completely cover the top of the box with the fabric cover (made of 3 layers of new, washed, 100% cotton fabric).
Place the box in the 4" open box removed from the top of each growing box, place a board on top, stack up the boxes, and keep them in room temperature for 4-6 days and "do nothing". I usually either keep them under my daughter's study desk or just under the window. Surprisingly it didn't attract my toddler to mess with it. The first time you might be tempted to peek during "do nothing" days. Soon I often totally forgot about them until I see yellow sprouts sticking out the sides of the boxes, then I know it's time to place them on windowsill.
Step 5: Greening Days on Windowsill
The work in this period is minimal too.
When the fabric cover was pushed up by the sprouts under or when the sprouts are about 1" tall, it's time to bring them out to light.
Different seeds sprout at different rate. In the first picture, radish is ready to see light but not the buckwheat and sunflower. So I just partially opened them to take a picture and kept them under cover for a couple of more days.
After removing the fabric cover, I usually hang them outside to be baked by sun so it doesn't get moldy. So far so good.
The second picture shows pea sprouts ready to see light (from earlier growing rounds when the box was used as it is, not modified).
Water the sprouts daily while it's on the windowsill until they are at the optimal state to harvest.
Step 6: Harvest
It's harvest time when the sprouts reach several to ten inches tall.
Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut them just above the soil.
They can be kept in zip lock bags in fridge and consumed within a week.
Step 7: Enjoy!
Wash the sprouts at least three times in plenty of water.
Use them in salad, add other vegetables and fruits for added color, flavor and nutrition, add chicken, hard boiled eggs or cheese for protein.
Top them on soups.
Or make a stir fry dish in a blink of eyes.
One ounce of sprouts in store sells for $2.99-$3.99. My family of four consumes 10-30 ounces per week. Didn't I grow them myself, we wouldn't be able to afford it.
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