Planting a small patch of baby greens is a no-brainer, especially if you consider the economics. A single box of mixed organic baby greens costs almost $6.00 at my supermarket. But for just $2.79 I can buy a packet of my favorite baby greens blend, ‘Paris Market Mix’ from Renee’s Garden. The small handful of seeds that comes in the packet covers a 3-foot by 3-foot area in my garden and provides a consistent supply of salad greens for at least two months.
The hardest part about growing baby greens is dealing with their teeny, tiny seeds, which are easy to bury too deeply. Here’s my strategy for sowing the little seeds and ensuring a successful crop of baby greens:
Prepare the soil. Preparing a smooth, level soil surface prevents the seeds from falling through the cracks (literally) and improves germination rates. In the garden, rake the soil, removing any rocks, clods, or weeds as you work. Ideally you want the soil to be crumbly, like brown sugar, and smooth. For container gardens, just fill the pot up with potting soil.
Broadcast the seed. Trying to plant itty-bitty seeds in a neat, single row is an exercise in frustration. Instead, take a pinch of seeds and sprinkle them over the soil, aiming to place the seeds about an inch apart in all directions. If they land a little closer together, don’t worry about it. Sow the seeds in 8” wide rows, or scatter them over a larger area. Be sure to sow the seed over damp soil, which helps them stick in place.
Cover with compost. The seeds of lettuce and other greens need to be covered with a very fine layer of soil, because burying them too deeply prevents them from germinating. Since garden soil tends to clump, I prefer to cover my seeds with compost or potting soil. Simply scoop up some compost between your hands and rub them back and forth, sifting a light layer of soil over the seeds. Gently pat the compost or potting soil with the palm of your hand to help ensure good soil-to-seed contact.
Use a watering can. A blast of water from the hose easily lifts up the lightweight seeds and washes them into a clump. Avoid this problem by watering the seed with a gentle stream from a watering can until the seeds germinate. Be sure to keep the soil consistently moist while you while you wait for the seeds to sprout.
Harvest with scissors. When the greens grow about 5 inches tall, use scissors to trim them back. Simply grab a clump of greens with one hand and cut them off 1 inch above the soil line. Spray the plants with diluted liquid organic fertilizer and keep them moist. The greens will soon re-grow and you can harvest them again in a few weeks.
Willi Galloway is the author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and she writes about organic vegetable gardening and seasonal cooking on her blog, DigginFood.