Sourcing lettuce and greens and microgreen seed and growing info…

5:22 am in Getting Started, Materials and Resources, Plants, Starting Seeds by Donna Mileti Benenson

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I’m a novice Windowfarmer, just beginning with hydroponic gardening, after years of organic home-gardening outdoors, and about to start seeds for some lettuce and greens and micro-greens.

After reading here about Windowfarmers’ success growing varieties like Buttercrunch, it seemed to me that other perhaps more interesting varieties of lettuces and greens and micro greens would grow just as well – though I’m depending on hearing from experienced Windowfarmers if anything I’m surmising at this point needs adjusting.

In the meantime, hoping that my reading about hydroponics here and elsewhere online has got me pretty much on track, I thought I’d pass along some names of seeds companies where the selection of lettuces and greens and cresses and shoots is now phenomenal, and some thoughts.

First, starting out with Windowfarming growing lettuce and greens, rather than, say, tomatoes or other fruiting vegetables, seems to make sense to me as a beginner, because lettuces and greens and annual herbs are relatively undemanding plants to grow.

The seeds germinate quickly, generally do well in the same ph range, and are not intense feeders.

Lettuces and other leafy greens and shoots also grow to usable size quickly, so you can start harvesting salad ingredients in about 4-6 weeks.

Lettuces generally take 7-10 days to germinate, and then need about 3-4 weeks further to grow to harvestable leaf size, sometimes a bit less.  Given what I’m reading here and online about the productivity of hydrofarming, I can imagine the time frame and yield is optimal.

And, as far as microgreens: Dr Howard Lesh, who wrote “Hydroponic Home Food Gardens” says that microgreens germinate in 2-3 days and are ready to start harvesting 6-10 days later.

http://www.howardresh.com/microgreens-june-2009.html

(His website has many valuable articles, especially ones with individual topics for hydroponic lettuce growing, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.  with photos of the various stages of growth.  This link will take you to a page that lists these on the right, as well as get you to his homepage.  He is very specific in his recommendations and examples)

Another valuable resource for seed and growing information, though not expressly for hydroponics, is Cornell University’s “Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners: A Citizens Science Project” – an interactive, collaborative, website for plant scientists and home gardeners to exchange information and sources for seeds, as well as reviews of their experiences growing them.

The site also has a terrific search engine built in, so that if you search for “lettuce” for example, you will come up with this long list.  http://vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu/mainSearch/showAll.php?searchCriteria=lettuce&sortBy=overallrating&order=DESC&searchIn=0&sideSearch=Search

From here, if you click on the name of a variety you are interested in, you come up with another search link that ends up with a Google list, and thus probably every supplier of that particular lettuce going.

Also extremely helpful is that each vegetable has all its cultivation info listed – so if you need to find out how deep to plant a lettuce seed, for example – it’s here.  And much more.  This site should come with a warning, it’s so fascinating and endless:

http://vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu/index.php

But back to ordering seeds directly from some companies I’ve depended on for years for my outdoor gardens, who are all now selling a fascinating and delicious array of salad greens -  selections of Asian, mustard, baby, micro and others, as well as cresses and herbs and shoots and sprouts. (They also sell every other kind of flower and vegetable garden seed, and supplies.)

Here are the links:

Fedco Seeds:  http://www.fedcoseeds.com/seeds.htm  (all untreated and some organic as well)

Johnny’s Seeds:  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/default.aspx (both regular and organic)

The Cook’s Garden: http://www.cooksgarden.com/index.cfm (both regular and organic)

http://www.reneesgarden.com/ (untreated, many heirloom)

Additionally, “Local Harvest” has a page on its website that acts as a market site for many fine small seed growers and seed exchanges – The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is one very old and well known cooperative, and they’re here along with many others:  http://www.localharvest.org/store/seeds.jsp

This is another site that should come with a warning, I think!  It’s set up so that you can order directly online from these small farmers and exchanges.

With the first 4 companies listed above, and probably many of the others you find on the general sites here, you can buy single seed packets that are custom blends of several lettuce or greens varieties, called “mixes” or “collections,” or buy individual packets of single varieties.

Mesclun mixes by now are very well known, though all growers make up their own unique recipe of seeds, and all now offer several kinds.  There are spicy mesclun mixes, heirloom mixes, braising mixes, stir-fry mixes, Nicoise mixes, etc.

But now there are also packets of “Asian greens” and “Mustard Greens” and “micro greens” – on and on – that include vegetables like beets and chard and kale and radish and many more, that are only meant to be grown and harvested after a few weeks’ growth.

Buying these speciality greens as mixes is an efficient and economical way to enjoy a large selection of greens.

The mixes generally have between 6 and a dozen kinds of plants, and the catalog listing tells you what they are individually.

Basically, whatever specialty lettuces and greens and shoots you’ve seen for sale by the ounce at farmers markets, you can now easily find in these catalogs, and grow, yourself.

But, if you like, you can now also customize what you grow – almost leaf by leaf, the seed offerings have gotten so vast and specific.  And you can buy the varieties singly.

The choices can seem overwhelming.  Johnny’s Seeds, for example, has 12 print catalog pages devoted solely to lettuces and greens.  Then there are two pages listing shoots and sprouts.

But what’s great is that there is a photo for each kind of lettuce or green, and a good deal of information about its taste, as well as how to grow it.  So you can also choose to customize your own mix.

For example, if you go to this link on Johnny’s Seeds site: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-1-vegetables.aspx   you can look under “greens” or under “lettuces” and then click separate sub-categories to end up with a list of choices even more singularly tuned.  Here’s a link for arugula/Roquette, for example: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-617-salad.aspx And for Asian greens: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-358-asian.aspx

Here’s a link to their “Micro Mix” page, with further links to individual varieties, and links to download detailed growing information, and price charts.  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-48-micro-mix.aspx

(Johnny divides its extensive micro green collection into two groups, fast growing and slow growing, which can help you plan your own succession crop planting)

But Fedco and The Cook’s Garden and Renee’s Seeds also all offer variations on offerings like Johnny’s Seeds.

Here is an example of what you would get were you to order the organic “Greens Mix” from Fedco:

2993GO Greens Mix OG Versatile companion to Lettuc Mix#2981. At least five varieties, certified organic seed, chosen from among beets, chard, arugula, mustards, orachs, purslane, chervil and kales suitable for mesclun or braising. Exact components will vary according to availability. For a fully organic salad, from seed to table.  A=1g  $1.10  B=2g  $2.00 C=4g  $3.50

The Cook’s Garden offers 9 kinds of mesclun, including traditional Provencal and Nicoise and Italian blends based on heirloom proportions.  http://www.cooksgarden.com/mesclun-seeds/

But these are just examples of some of the fantastic range these companies offer.

One last thought: while I order all my seeds online, ordering the free print catalog from these companies can be worth it, as they are great hands-on reference as well as garden-dreaming manuals, and will survive a little spilled water or potting mix or being dropped far better than a laptop or iPhone.  (But both online and in print, these companies offer a tremendous wealth of information, even for those who just want to be arm-chair gardeners – or savvy farmers market shoppers – this season)

P.S. As far as my own seed order so far:  I’ve bought the micro greens collection, and a separate packet of pea shoots, from The Cook’s Garden.

And from Fedco Seed, individual packets of Claytonia, Bronze Fennel, Garlic Chives, Lemondrop French Marigold, Verte de Cambrai Mache, Borage, Empress of India Nasturtium, Helen Mount Johnny Jump Ups and, out of curiosity, two kinds of breadseed poppies. (I intend to share seed with friends.  And, by the way, Fedco will offer group discounts to people who want to get together to create a large joint order.  They do request one person collect the money and send in only one order.  There is info on their site and in the print catalog)

These are all salad components I’ve raised indoors from seed and grown successfully outdoors in the past, but have yet to try as a Windowfarmer.

It would be great to hear from experienced Windowfarmers, if anything I’ve said about seeds here, ends up not applying to hydroponics.  I realize the next step, once I transplant seedlings into the Windowfarms system, is going to see me with more questions than suggestions.

So, thank you.

Donna MB

Fedco Seeds:  http://www.fedcoseeds.com/seeds.htm  (all untreated and some organic as well)

Johnny’s Seeds:  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/default.aspx (both regular and organic)

The Cook’s Garden: http://www.cooksgarden.com/index.cfm (both regular and organic)

http://www.reneesgarden.com/ (untreated, many heirloom)