One of the things that’s fun about vegetable gardening is trying out new and unusual food crops. Some experiments of this sort are best conducted outside — you probably aren’t going to try rhubarb, or a new variety of pole bean, indoors! But indoor gardens can be a great way to trial a small amount of something different. This spring we tried a couple of things we’d heard about: seasoning celery and shiso.
Seasoning celery is an herb-sized celery, with leaves and stems similar in appearance to parsley. It’s grown mainly for the leaves, and is great in salads and soups. For me, it’s tastier than regular celery when cooked — you get flavor without those water-logged cooked celery chunks.
Our other recent veggie trial was shiso. I read about this Asian herb in The Edible Front Yard, by Ivette Soler. Her description of the flavor — a combination of basil, ginger, and mint, with a hint of cumin — certainly got my attention! We’ve used the leaves, chopped fine, in soups and stews. It’s an attractive plant, though not a small one, when full grown. Apparently the green variety is much more flavorful than the purple, which is not much used in cooking.
While growing lettuce indoors is a breeze, growing tomatoes to maturity indoors is a trickier undertaking. For one thing, even those bred as “patio plants” are likely to reach 3 or more feet tall.
We’ve been experimenting with growing tomatoes indoors on our Sunstations. We’ve tried quite a few varieties, and were getting discouraged about being able to grow a really good tasting tomato under artificial light.
However, we’ve found a variety that doesn’t get too tall, and produces a tasty cherry tomato: the Vilma. It’s a determinate tomato, meaning the plant produces a main crop over a relatively short period, and the plant doesn’t keep growing larger after this.
Vilmas growing under lights
We started seeds indoors in January, put the plants in bigger pots in February, and got a nice crop of spring tomatoes by April. Even now, the plants put out occasional flowers and fruit.
A couple of tips for indoor growing: it helps to switch from cool white (grow) lights to warm white (bloom) lights when the plants start to flower. This works for both compact fluorescents and fluorescent tubes. (If growing a variety of plants under fluorescent tubes, using one cool white and one warm white is a good option.) Also, for better flavor, cut back on watering at the time the fruits are maturing.
The seeds are not widely carried; we got ours at www.tmseeds.com.
Lettuce is usually an easy crop to grow. In the right place at the right time, it’s pretty trouble free. Lettuce prefers cool weather, and is therefore best planted in spring or fall in most parts of the U.S. It can sometimes be coaxed along in summer, but usually does better with less than full sun in that case.
Leaf lettuce varieties (those that don’t form a firm head) can be harvested multiple times using the “cut and come again” method of cutting the leaves with a scissors and leaving an inch or two of lettuce stubble to start regrowth.
If you lack outdoor space, or the climate or season aren’t right, lettuce is very easy to grow indoors. My friend Michael and her husband George live in Texas. She told me they’d love to grow lettuce, but it doesn’t do well in their hot and windy climate. So we sent them a Tabletop Sunstation.
Michael soon reported that her lettuce “babies” were thriving. A few weeks later, she emailed us, “Our salad was divine, with some leftover for sandwiches!” and sent a lovely picture of their dinner, with salad. Not only that, she send her recipe for salad dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
4 TBSP apple cider vinegar
2 TBSP maple syrup
6 TSP Dijon mustard
Thanks, Michael, we tried the dressing on some of our own Sunstation-grown lettuce, and it was excellent!
Small Trays – The basic unit of Small Tray Gardening is an 8″x12″ tray under a grow light. To work on this tray, you would move it to a convenient location like a table and then put it back under the light when done. Traditionally gardeners have used 11″x22″ trays. These large trays are difficult to move so working on one usually means working on it in place. This sometimes means kneeling on the floor.
Round nursery pots (see Feetpot below) 4″ in diameter and 6-1/2″ in diameter are used. A small tray will hold six 4″ pots or two 6-1/2″ pots. SOLO plastic cups (9 oz.) make perfect humidity domes for the 4″ pots. Clear vinyl saucers (6″ diameter) make perfect humidity domes for the 6-1/2″ pots.
Feetpot – A nursery pot with feet, wicks and potting mix or seed starting mix.
Fourstart – A Feetpot or standard nursery pot with partitions that create four deep root seed starting cells.
Fourstarts are made using scissors to cut apart square nursery pots
Fourstarts inserted in a round nursery pot create four chambers
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