I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent who worries about not getting enough greens into my child. Although there’s always sneaky ways to ensure at least some get past their lips by disguising it in other food stuffs (carrot and courgette cheese scones a tried and tested method if you need the recipe, just ask!) I’d rather not rely on cunning all the time.
I wrote a little last time about getting children involved in growing food as a way of encouraging them to eat more fruit and vegetables, but if you’re just starting out or don’t have a lot of space then it can often seem a bit daunting to know where to start.
But even with just a little bit of space on a windowsill and no gardening experience, it’s really easy to have your own fresh homegrown salad to eat.
One of the most consistently popular activities at the local school gardening club I run is making ‘living salads’ as it’s so easy to do and the results are fairly rapid and tasty to boot.
I really like salads but was fed up with buying tired supermarket salad bags that had been coated in chlorine and cost a small fortune. Even worse, I’d often only eat half before forgetting it was in the fridge and then have to throw out (in the compost, so at least the worms were happy) and feel bad I’d wasted it.
I experimented a bit with a few different containers, depth of compost, seed mixes etc, but found that really you can’t go far wrong with a plastic punnet of the kind you get fruit in at the supermarket to stop it getting squished’; a little multipurpose compost (don’t use garden soil as you’ll have trouble telling the weeds from the leaves); and a packet of any mixed leaf seeds (Wilkinson’s tend to be the best value and currently have a 3 for 2 offer on their seed packets, but obviously other retailers are available 😉
Mixed salad seeds are just perfect for starting out sowing with children as you can’t really go wrong. They also germinate on a warm windowsill pretty rapidly, so are ideal for those children (and adults) with a limited attention span…
How to make your own ‘living salad’
- Put a layer of compost on the bottom of your plastic punnet about an inch (or 5cms) deep or so and press it down gently so you have a firm, even surface.
- Then give it a light watering; some children are more enthusiastic waterers than others, so you may need to give them a hand to ensure you have at least some soil remaining in the punnet. It’s important to water before putting your seeds on otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of seeds in one place and nothing at all elsewhere!
- Sprinkle a selection of seeds over to ensure an even covering but don’t fret too much about exactly how many seeds are on there it’s not an exact science! Packets of mixed leaves cost about £1 and if you’re feeling adventurous, add some spinach seeds, radish, spring onion, herbs, etc. as well to the mix to add in different flavours and colours.
- Lastly, scatter a light covering of compost over your seeds you’re aiming for just enough to cover them rather than a complete burying so that they expend all their energy getting to the surface.
- Place the punnet on a piece of cardboard or something waterproof if you’re worried about your windowsill and then sit back and wait. It should take a matter of days to see something happening (you can often see the first stirrings through the sides, under the soil another reason why it’s a good idea to use the plastic punnets as it’s a whole science lesson in a pot) and within a fortnight, it should be ready for a first cutting of mini leaves.
- It’s up to you how big you let your seedlings get and it may get a little too crowded, so just keep an eye on them and check they have enough light they’ll go yellow and look sorry for themselves if not.
- Be frugal with watering and only water if the soil is dry to the touch (but don’t leave it like a desert for days or the tiny seedlings will give up the ghost).
- You should be able to get two or three cuttings out of each batch (scissors are the easiest way to harvest). It will look a little drastic, like a shorn sheep for a while in-between cuts, but it will come back again at least once. If you’re organised enough to start another punnet as soon as you begin eating the first, you may even be able to ensure a continuous supply!
And that’s it a really easy and cost effective way to get fresh salad for your family’s sandwiches.