I just read this announcement (which I will also share with you, because it could affect anyone purchasing these items from the produce aisle…), but before I share, let me just say that there is no reason in my opinion on why individuals cannot grow their own greens. Enlighten me — tell me in the comments below why greens cannot be grown. My inquiring mind wants to know.
I literally just planted a tray of kale seeds yesterday to grow out into our cool fall days. In fact, fall and winter here in Zone 7B is a fantastic time to grow kale, because there is less pest pressure.
If you have never grown kale, you are missing out on one of the most convenient and easiest plants you can grow. You just harvest leaf-by-leaf from the bottom of the stem upwards as it grows and it keeps giving more-and-more leaves to nourish you week-after-week through the cool season.
When we get down to freezing temps, just cover with a row cover material of some sort or if in a planter, roll it in at night into the garage and back out in the day time. Some kale actually tastes sweeter it seems with frost. Or, like me, you could invest in a Hydroponic vertical garden growing system with grow lights like the Tower Garden and grow kale or greens 24/7/365.
Self-sufficiency is not only the healthiest option for you and those you love, but it’s a wonderful feeling to just enjoy the work of your hands. If you have a moment, check out EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. Notice what is on it? And if you’ve been purchasing produce from Kroger — specifically kale — take note of this important announcement just released moments ago from the Georgia Department of Agriculture Food Recall:
The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) is recalling its 16-ounce Kroger bagged kale product, produced by Baker Farms, due to possible listeria monocytogenes contamination. This action is being taken in cooperation with the US FDA. To date, no illnesses related to this product have been reported.
This recall includes 16-ounce bags of Kroger branded Kale (see picture below), with the UPC 11110-18170 with a best by date of 09-18-2021, which is printed on the front of the package below the light blue bar. All affected products were pulled from the Produce departments on Sept. 16, 2021.
Baker Farms is recalling their Baker Farms, Kroger & SEG Grocers brand names of Kale, 1 lb plastic bags with BEST BY 09-18-2021107020-21832 due to contamination of Listeria monocytogenes. Products affected by this recall can be found here.
On 9-15-2021 the firm was notified by a customer that the product test positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The products were distributed between 8/30/2021 – 9/1/2021. These products were packaged in clear plastic and sold primarily in retail stores located in the States of: AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MO, MS, NC, NY & VA. No illnesses have been reported to date.
So in summary, grow kale. Especially now. And eat what you grow. You might just fall in love with growing your health gardening in the process.
This time of year, many a gardener will begin breaking out their seeds from storage and gather up their recent purchases in preparation for the upcoming growing season. With earnest, one cell tray or by one rock wool at a time, life will begin inside the gardener’s abode, protected from the cold weather outside.
Seed starting, used to be an annual event for me until I realized the importance of succession planting. If I wanted to have a continual supply of greens or move from one season to the next seamlessly, a little bit of planning was all I needed to do the trick.
If I was going to do succession planting, I needed to make it part of my everyday planting and tending tasks (even if all it means is a quick glance to check moisture levels or that your “babies” (as I affectionately call them) are growing as they should was the only task that day.) And as an everyday task, it needed to be part of my environment. The end result to succession planting throughout the year? A seed starting station.
If you’re only planting seeds one time a year, I encourage you to read on and challenge yourself to look at seed starting in a whole new light (pun intended). We want to set you up for success for the ENTIRE growing season ahead!
What is a Seed Starting Station?
Okay, I’m probably being “Captain Obvious” here, but a Seed Starting Station contains everything you need to start seeds. If I may recommend a few tips as you consider setting up your own Seed Starting Station:Your Seed Starting Station needs to be in a location where you walk by it at least once a day; two times or more a day is even better. Why? Seedlings need nurturing. Watching that they have proper light, temperature, moisture, and humidity levels are all key to successful strong seed starts.
Your Seed Starting Station need to have the proper temperature.
Temperatures do matter with germination and each seed / plant has different temps they prefer to germinate at and a “sweet spot” temperature range. For example, warm season plants typically prefer to germinate at temps above 65ºF. On the flip side, cool season plants, typically prefer to germinate at cooler temps. Spinach, for example, can be started in a container between two wet paper towel sheets in the refrigerator and after about 7-10 days you’ll see the root emerge. At this point, you can move it into soil or a wet rock wool and allow it to continue to grow into a young seedlings under bright light while maintaining high 60º-low 70ºF temps.
Seed heat mats can be a great tool for warming soil or rock wool when you set a tray on it. Just be careful to not overheat the young seeds. A thermostat on your heat mat can keep it in the proper range. Below is a quick cheat sheet for common veggies of optimal temperatures seeds typically germinate at:
Optimum Range (F)
Source: PennState Extension. Adapted from Kemble and Musgrove (2006) (Soil temperatures should be taken by inserting a soil thermometer 3-4 inches deep into the soil surface and noting temperature.
Your Seed Starting Station Needs Bright Light
Seedlings need a lot of light once they emerge — a nice bright strong light. If you don’t have a green house that can be temperature controlled for heat and cool air, you will need to grow your seedlings indoors. That means you will need artificial lighting intended for growing plants. Lighting could get real technical quick, so I’m going to try to keep it simple. When it comes to lighting and seed starting you need to keep three things in mind to make adjustments as needed to ultimately save money on seeds:
INTENSITY: You need to have enough lighting. • LED bars: 8–10 inches apart from each other • T5 fluorescents: 4–5 inches apart from each other
COVERAGE: You need to place lighting in the sweet spot — not too far from seedlings. • LED bars (like Phillips): 8–12 inches away from seedlings • T5 fluorescents: 5–6 inches away from seedlings
DURATION: You need to leave lights on long enough. 14-18 hrs a day
Your light needs to be bright (this is like the one we use) and you need to have a way to adjust the light so that it is the correct distance from the seedling. And if you’re planting into a hydroponic growing system where your seedling will mature into an adult plant, you’ll want lights that can be adjusted distance-wise from the plant (closer when they are young and further away about 8″-10″ when they are older). If you’re using a Tower Garden HOME or Tower Garden FLEX, these are the lights you will want to invest in as they can be adjusted from the plant as it grows and they have a built in timer making it easy to set it and go about your life never having to worry about the lights turning on and off again.
Don’t rely on a window with sun coming in as it will make your seedlings “leggy” where they stretch for the light and ultimately that makes them weaker plants as they mature. Today’s windows have a UV rating which actually blocks the essential UV light that seedlings crave. The window is designed to protect your home interior textiles such as the furniture, drapes, and carpet from fading — it is not taking into account seed germination needs at all.
Some love to say “You can just start your seedlings in your Tower Garden — I do it all the time.” A couple of cautionary words are needed when you hear or read this advice posted in social media groups. Simply, don’t do it. Seedlings started in this manner often become leggy and are overall weaker plants when they mature. Secondly, you can “burn” your tender seedling with high levels of nutrients that other mature plants may be getting within your growing system, as seedlings don’t require as much nutrients when they are teeny tiny. Remember to, instead, start your seedlings off strong in a Seed Starting Station under bright grow lights. Look for a light that has all the color spectrum of the sun and avoid cheap $20-$30 grow lights as they are just not strong enough for seedlings to thrive. We recommend a grow light like this that has a full-spectrum. A decent grow light for seedlings will cost between $60-$100. I’ve also used my Aerogarden Harvest as a light for seedlings when I don’t have anything growing in the ports.
You’ll want to keep a quick reference to the needs of different seeds.
Not all seeds need darkness or to be covered to begin the germination process. Some require light to germinate like lettuce. Some need to be scarified (slightly chipped) or go through a cold period before they will germinate. We recommend printing off our Seeds That Require Special Treatment Reference Chart and laminating it or sticking it in a 3-ring binder sheet protector to use as a quick reference (or just bookmark our reference page and come back to it as you need to).
Your Seed Station needs to have supplies relating to starting seeds and nurturing stored nearby
Here’s a list of some common supplies I use for soil and a list for common supplies I use for hydroponics.
Soil: • Seed starting tray cells, recycled containers that can be repurposed as small pots, or small paper pots • potting mix or screened peat moss • worm castings (to mix into your potting mix) (Note: don’t purchase and ship during hot months as temps of 85ºF in shipment will begin to kill beneficial bacteria in castings.) • access to a water source and/or some sort of watering can to “water in” seeds • seeds you intend to plant (those that are not in the freezer) • plant tags • permanent marker • and a tray to rest your seed starts on and move them easily from under your grow light to outdoors as temps allow. • heat mat with temp gauge • grow light
Now to the best part. Your own personal produce section!
To have a continual harvest, you’ll want to implement a sequential planting system. Pick a day that you are at your leisure (i.e.: Sundays are usually a restful day for most folks) and put a reminder on your calendar to plant at a certain time every week or every two weeks paying attention to your growing conditions (i.e.: indoor, cool season, warm season) and available space.
Let’s say you want to have a continuous supply of Bibb Lettuce. If you have a 28 port Tower Garden, you can plant 4 rock wools with Bibb Lettuce seed making sure to include a couple extra seeds per rock wool of which you’ll thin down as they germinate to the strongest one. You’ll repeat this process, planting several lettuce seeds into a single rock wool cube, filling four cubes total. As shown in the below planting chart, by week 4, your week 1 seedlings will be ready to transfer into your system. With each passing week, you’ll put the four seedlings that are ready from previous week plantings into the next row up of your vertical hydroponic / aeroponic Tower Garden. By week 10, you will have harvested your row 1 Bibb Lettuce (four ports = four heads of bibb lettuce to feed a typical family of four for a week). Once your lower lettuce has been harvested (pulled out of the port), the following week, replace the net pots and wipe down the port entrance with a cotton ball with alcohol on it and put a new clean net pot in it’s place. You are ready to plant the next set of four seedlings in these empty ports. As you continue to harvest up the vertical garden, you will clean each port and then plant the next seedling into it.
Note, if you are growing outdoors, sequential planting will get trickier, because temperature will be a variable. As temps raise towards summer time, bibb lettuce will begin to bolt (or go to seed) quicker or go limp if it is not a heat tolerant variety. This type of sequential planting works best if growing greens indoors and if the green has a 6-week grow cycle. This could work for Bok Choy and most greens. Consider putting some herbs like chives in the top row… these are cut and come again meaning that once they are a certain height, you can start cutting them 3″-4″ from the base of the plant and they will continue to grow from the center. Keep in mind that at some point, you will need to clean your system and restart the process, but in theory, if growing indoors, plants should continue to grow at a steady rate if you get in the habit of planting enough to fill four ports each week.
BIBB LETTUCE OR BOK CHOY EXAMPLE OF SEQUENTIAL PLANTING SCHEDULE FOR 1 TOWER GARDEN WITH 28 PORTS:
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Trans-plant into Tower Garden…
Week 1 seedlings Btm Row 1 of TG
Week 2 seedlings Btm Row 2 of TG
Week 3 seedlings Btm Row 3 of TG
Week 4 seedlings Row 4 of TG
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Start 4 cubes w/seeds
Week 5 seedlings Row 5 of TG
Week 6 seedlings Row 6 of TG
Week 7 seedlings Row 7 of TG
Week 8 seedlings Row 1 of TG
Week 9 seedlings Row 2 of TG
Week 10 seedlings Row 3 of TG
Week 11 seedlings Row 4 of TG
Harvest off of btm row 1 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 2 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 3 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 4 lettuce
Harvest off of btm row 5 lettuce
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
No matter what you want to grow, evaluate about how long the plant(s) you want to grow take to get to maturity for harvest, calculate when it will be ready for consumption, and enjoy your bounty continuously throughout the season with weekly seed starting in your own personal Seed Starting Station.
Happy Growing! — Erin
PS: Be sure to post your pics of your Seed Starting Station on social media and tag us at #gyhg and maybe you’ll get featured on our Instagram or Facebook channels and get some FREE seeds!
Why you should be growing your own arugula instead of buying from the grocery store or Big-Box Retailer
You know how you go to a fancy restaurant and they bring you your salad course and before they leave your table they offer fresh pepper for your salad and with your permission proceed to grind cracked pepper onto your salad? Think of arugula as your cracked pepper of the salad world.
Why Grow Arugula and How To Use It
I wanted to feature Arugula, because I just don’t think people understand how versatile this plant truly is and that it is beneficial in so many ways. It is chalk-full of beneficial nutrients (which we will cover later in case you wanted to know) while also being low in calories.
It is ideal for new home gardeners in building confidence of gardening skills as it grows quickly from seed (aptly nicknamed “Salad Rocket” in some countries) and can begun to be harvested off of and tossed into salads with other greens when the leaves are still young and small at 2″-3″ in length. (Note: If you leave the center 3-4 leaves, it will continue to produce as a cut-and-come-again plant.) Arugula is often found in the produce aisle in salad greens mix and called “mesclun”.
Mature Full-Grown Leaves and How to Use Them
I as a mother of five know that life can get busy, so if you fall behind on harvesting leaves when small and the plant gets more mature, that’s okay! It will be “spicier” or “peppery” in taste as a mature plant. Take these 6″-8″ long leaves and slice them from tip to base into 1/4″ or thinner strips and sprinkle over your salad or mix in (think of it like your freshly ground peppercorn). Diced leaves can even be added to dishes that call for cilantro or parsley, or mixed into pastas, side dishes, put on top of sandwiches, in wraps and/or added to soups. Its flavor compliments goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, making it perfect to blend into dips or spreads.
Arugula can also be added to your basil pesto as added flavor or if you like the peppery flavor, you can substitute arugula in place of basil and make an entire pesto out of arugula leaves. We like this happy medium of a pesto recipe in particular over at PCOSbites. It’s great if you are looking for something that isn’t the same ol’ pesto recipe, but full of nutrients while still tasting delicious. We think of it as the new “elderberry syrup” as an immune-boosting meal for our family.
We also love to add arugula baby leaves to our sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, and pine nut mini pizzas! The kids don’t bat an eye-lash at the greens on their personalized pizzas because these taste so good!
Mature leaves can also be cooked or sautéed much like you would cook collards. With a TBSP of sherry, soy sauce, minced garlic, and vegetable oil + 1/2 tsp of salt and granulated sugar you can have a quick healthy side dish to accompany your sun-dried tomato mozzarella chicken. YUM!
If you don’t plan on eating a salad and just want to move it out of your system to put something else in, simply clean harvested leaves with water and pat dry with paper towels and spread out on a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 110ºF for 6 hrs until it breaks crisp (no moisture left in leaves.) Do not crush leaves, but place in a glass jar with an oxygen absorber and put in your spice and seasoning cabinet. When a recipe calls for pepper or if you’re making a soup, simply add in your dried arugula. BAM! (As Emeril would say…) or YUMMO! (As Rachel Ray would say…) You will get a hint of that pepper flavor as well as all the amazing nutrients that this little power-packed leaf holds.
Tip: After you dehydrate your arugula, don’t crush the leaves. Store the leaves as one piece as much as possible. When you “crush” or break up the leaves, it releases the flavonoids and other beneficial nutrients. We want those to stay in tack until we are ready to consume it in our cooking, so I always encourage folks to hold off crushing your leaves for this reason. This is also why you may notice your home-grown herbs and spices have so much more flavor than the crushed and processed ones from the grocery store.
—Erin Castillo, Owner Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.
Nutritional Benefits You’ll Get from Eating Arugula
So, we’ve covered how to use arugula. Let’s briefly touch on why you should be eating this green. According to the USDA, a half cup (approximately 10 grams) of raw arugula has about:
0.4 gram carbohydrates
0.3 gram protein
0.1 gram fat
0.2 gram fiber
10.9 micrograms vitamin K (14 percent DV)
237 international units vitamin A (5 percent DV)
1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
9.7 micrograms folate (2 percent DV)
16 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
In addition, this leafy green contains some iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and choline. It also is rich in phytonutrients offering 1,424 mg of Beto-Carotene B
Did you know that one cup of Arugula can meet over a quarter of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K? Vitamin K is essential to blood clot formation and bone formation. Some researchers even believe that vitamin K may be a key factor in bone development, more so than calcium. I want my children to have strong bones as they grow and I encourage them to eat salads daily. One way to help provide their bodies with what they need is to mix in some arugula into their daily salad.
Tip: If you’re having difficulty getting your children to eat greens, involve them in the growing process. Give them a garden that is completely their own area to tend and help them grow plants from seed. As they feel more connected to their food, their natural curiosity will kick-in and they will willingly try the food they have patiently waited for to grow.
—Erin Castillo, Owner Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.
How to Grow Arugula in a Hydroponic System
In this article, I’ll focus on growing it hydroponically, because that’s my preferred method of growing, but a lot of the same tips can be applied to growing in soil.
You can grow arugula in any hydroponic or aeroponic system. In a vertical garden growing system like the Tower Garden or Farm Stand, you’ll want to place this plant towards the top as you will most likely be harvesting from it continuously and keeping the plant size small.
Starting your arugula from seed: Choosing your arugula variety
If you’re growing in a hydroponic / aeroponic system, we strongly recommend you opt of seed that has already adapted to these growing conditions. Can seed from soil-grown parent plants grow hydroponically? Absolutely, but plants adapt epigenetically each growing season, so you’ll have a stronger healthier plant if you start out right with seed that has already adapted to the growing conditions you want to match. According to growers at the Seed Savers Exchange, seed DNA can hold 5+ years of growing seasons in which it can tap to survive and thrive. Choosing your seed stock source is more important than most realize.
Our arugula seed has been grown outdoors in the cool season of the Southeast in Zone 7 (not mentioning the zone here because it’s a perennial, but to help you get an idea of where the seed is grown so you can best match it to your own growing conditions.) GYHG Seed Co arugula seed can handle heat and humidity to a point before it bolts, but definitely plan on growing this during the cool season and start your seedlings 2 weeks before your last average frost date with the intention to move it outdoors as a transplant.
How many plants should you plant:
If you are wanting arugula on hand to pick fresh and mix into salads, I recommend planting four plants on a rotation (see below charts.) Place in upper level of Tower Garden or Farm Stand.
This is also a seed that you will want to plant on a continual basis on a four to five week cycle, so if you don’t have a Seed Starting Station set up already, you will want to read up about how to get one set up here. We recommend to plant four plants and keep them in your upper level of your Tower Garden or Farm Stand vertical garden growing system.
Start 2 rockwool cubes
Nurture Week 1 seeds
Start 2 rockwool cubes
Nurture Week 3 seeds
Start 2 rockwool cubes
Transplant Week 1 Seedlings into TG
Transplant Week 3 Seedlings into TG
Harvest baby leaves
Harvest baby leaves
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
Nurture Week 5 seeds
Start 2 rockwool cubes
Nurture Week 7 seeds
Start 2 rockwool cubes
Nurture Week 9 seeds
Pull Week 1 Plants. Transplant Week 5 Seedlings into TG
Pull Week 3 Plants. Transplant Week 7 Seedlings into TG
Continue pattern of pulling older plants and transplanting seedlings
Outdoor planting in a hydroponics system: If planting in the spring, you will want to start your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse so that your seedling start will be about two to three weeks old by the time your last spring frost date rolls around. If planting in the fall, you’ll want to factor in your harvest date range and count backwards 4-6 weeks from your frost date.
Arugula likes to live around 45° to 65°F (10-18°C). Plant arugula so that it comes to harvest in cool weather. It may fail to germinate if it’s too warm. Use a UV light system of some sort to grow your seedlings indoors keeping the light source 8″-12″ if LEDs and 5″-6″ away from seedlings if fluorescent lighting.
How many seeds to plant per rock wool: We recommend planting about 3-5 seeds per rock wool cube. Arugula typically germinates within 4-8 days. Be sure to use seed that is packaged for the current growing season as it will aide your ability to germinate the seeds. You can always remove any excess seedlings down to two plants as the plants mature if you are concerned about crowding. Our philosophy is start out with more and thin down as needed (but don’t toss those microgreens you pull — they are healthy for you to eat as micro-greens).
How much nutrients you should give your seedlings: Keep rockwool moist to the touch but not drenched. When you see a sprout, you can add a tsp of kelp to your water and water the young seedlings while giving them bright light from a grow light.
Thinning out your seedling starts: As the seeds germinate and grow, you will want to pull (or also called “thin out”) the weaker seedlings from the rock wool. (Remember, this is not a wasted plant — you can simply enjoy eating it as a microgreen.) You will want to leave leave 1-2 plants per rock wool to grow to maturity.
Transplanting your seedlings into your hydroponic system: Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden or hydroponic system about 2–3 weeks after sprouting. Seedlings plants should be about 1-2 inches tall, with 3-4 true leaves, before they are ready to leave the nest and enter into the hydroponic / aeroponic Tower Garden or other related system.
Finally, remember that arugula plantings should be staggered in roughly 2-3 week intervals in order to ensure a continuous harvest. If doing a spring planting, your growing season will be longer than a fall planting. You can extend your fall outdoor planting season by adding a professional grade heater to your Tower Garden reservoir keeping water temps in the 50-65º F range for the root zone to continue to uptake nutrients — just be sure to cover your Tower Garden outside with a weather protection blanket like this when freeze warnings appear.
Nutrient levels for optimal growth throughout the growing season for arugula:
Nutrients: EC: 0.8 – 1.2 (We recommend Tower Tonic Mineral Blend™ for a well-balanced nutrient solution to feed your plants the proper N-K-P and micro-nutrients. You can purchase a 1 gallon set of Part A and Part B here.)
PPM: 560 – 840 (We recommend Tower Tonic Mineral Blend™ for a well-balanced nutrient solution to feed your plants the proper N-K-P and micro-nutrients. You can purchase a 1 gallon set of Part A and Part B here.)
pH: 5.5-6.2 (pH is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients.)
Light: (Amount of sun or light exposure throughout the day) Hydroponic arugula should get between 10 and 14 hours of light per day.
Arugula Temp Tips: (Root zone temp is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients)
Maximum Temp 75º Degrees Fahrenheit
Optimal Day CycleTemp 65º – 70º Fahrenheit
Optimal Night CycleTemp 60º – 65º Fahrenheit (Note: arugula can handle some frost so long as the root zone stays above 50ºF, so use a water heater in your reservoir if you want to try pushing the limits on it growing in the cold.)
Seed Storage 40º to 70º degrees Fahrenheit
Germination 60º to 75º degrees Fahrenheit
SOIL Growers: Note — Do not grow in soil with pole beans or strawberries. Good companion plants are bush beans, celery, carrots, nasturtium, mint, dill, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, rosemary, potatoes
HYDROPONIC Growers: See first chart on Cool Season Plants on this page for reference of what grows well at similar PPM ranges and pH ranges in a hydroponic / aeroponic system.
Harvesting your arugula:
Make a note of how many days to maturation on the variety of arugula you are planting and mark your calendar or in your gardening journal. When your plants have reached the baby leaf stage, take a sanitized clean pair of hand trimmers or scissors and cut the outer leaves of your arugula plant, leaving at minimum three center leaves to continue to grow. The plant will continue to produce leaves for you but will become spicier as the plant matures. If you don’t want spicier leaves, simply pull the mature plant at 5-6 weeks of age and replace the plant with a new transplant (see chart above). Ideally, your arugula should be eaten within a few hours of harvest; however, if storage is necessary, the correct conditions to prolong shelf life are rapid cooling down to 34°F (we accomplish this with an ice bath of water) and then spin the leaves dry and place between dry paper towels in a sealed lettuce container with and 95-98% percent humidity.
How to store arugula that is not consumed right away:
If you have more arugula producing faster than you can eat, there are a couple of options: dehydrating or freezing. To dehydrate your arugula leaves, place on a dehydrator rack at 110º F for 6-24 hours. When the leaves are crunchy (you can break them in half), remove from the dehydrator and place in a tightly sealed pouch or Mason jar with an oxygen absorber. Dehydrated arugula can be used in soups and ground into a powder to add to pestos, soups, or even on meats for additional nutrients.
You can also freeze your crop in an air-tight bag or container and use in smoothies or defrost and use in recipes that may call for herbs.
Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below and happy growing!
But first, before we dive in… it’s important to know WHY we need to grow our own lettuce. So many consumers blindly are trusting the food system and don’t realize that our current mass-produced lettuce is picked before it’s prime, often travels many food miles to the consumer, and the lettuce food system has had 46 outbreaks nationally between the years of 2006-2019 (and most of those cases have happened in recent years!)
Dangers of Store-Bought Lettuce
Let’s first look at if organic lettuce can really be trusted… According to Consumer Reports, 72 percent of Americans try to avoid GMOs when they shop. And more than half seek out the “organic” label. But is organic lettuce really pesticide-free? Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s pesticide free… Despite being natural, spinosad, pyrethrin, azadirachtin, and other approved ingredients can still be harmful. (They are toxic pesticides, after all.) And in some cases, farmers must spray greater volumes of natural solutions because they aren’t as effective as their non-organic counterparts. In fact, up to 20 percent of organic lettuce may contain pesticide residue. And as though that weren’t enough, one study found that organic produce is more likely to play host to pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella. This is likely because it’s grown with organic fertilizers (e.g., manure and compost).
And that doesn’t even account for what is used as irrigation to grow the lettuce. Recent outbreaks were said to occur because of feed lots up stream tainting the irrigation supply. Hmmm….
Did you know that from 2006 to 2019, leafy greens like Romaine, Spinach and bags of Spring Mix from Salinas, CA and Phoenix, AZ accounted for at least 46 national outbreaks of E. coli. Check out this article and news report. (You may be more at risk of you’re purchasing a salad kit? The last outbreak sickened 11 people in Washington State. As of December 2019, there were two simutaneous outbreaks. “The FDA is investigating two other E. coli outbreaks, each caused by strains that are different from each other and different from the larger outbreak.” See report here.)
“Fresh-picked salad greens can have a higher nutritional value than store-bought greens. The flavor of homegrown salad greens is also noticeably better, as most kitchen gardeners will affirm. This is due to the extreme freshness of your salad, when you can use the instant “pick and plate” approach to preparation. Once you taste salad greens straight from the garden, you’ll be spoiled for life.
But arguably the greatest benefit is that of human health. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the percentage of foodborne illnesses related to produce, and greens have been one of the biggest culprits. This is mainly due to the soft leaves of the greens, which retain any germs they come in contact with. The CDC estimates that roughly 22 percent of all foodborne illness is caused by leafy greens. This has grown from less than one percent 40 years ago. This may be the best reason to grow your own leafy greens: while store-bought produce must be thoroughly washed to reduce the risk of illness, you can be sure that greens grown at home are much safer.” — Fix.com
The seriousness of these E. coli outbreaks have not only health impacts, but financial ones as well. According to Marler Clark, a law firm reprenting 28 victims from just one ecoli incident, said “Illness typically lasts from 1 to 12 days; however, E. coli patients who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection, can remain hospitalized for months. They often require kidney dialysis and extensive supportive care. The cost of hospitalization for an E. coli case can range from several hundred dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Store Bought Lettuce Food Miles and Nutritional Value
The other factor to consider is how far your lettuce has had to travel to get to your plate. Food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user. The term, “food miles” was originally penned from a study in Iowa that focused on how far food had to travel.In 2011, lettuce was grown on 206,000 acres in California (most coming from Salinas, CA), which represented 73% of the total U.S. acreage (Source: Lettuce_Production_CA). If trucks were to drive a straight line (which in reality they don’t — they make pit-stops at processing centers and go to distribution centers before traveling to our local grocery store), lettuce harvested in Salinas, CA must travel a minimum of 3,000 miles to Atlanta, GA and is at least 4-5 days old by the time it reaches our grocery store. It’s estimated that it take an average of 10 days to go from farm to our plate! Are you even getting any nutritional value from eating it at this point? We’ll explore that in a minute…
One thing to note, since the 2019 E Coli outbreaks, the lettuce industry has incorporated a standard of placing labels on packages of romaine to indicate where the lettuce originated from so that the CDC can better track down the source of contamination. (Yes, I’m trying to shake you out of denial — it’s really that bad.)
The other factor at play with store-bought lettuce is the depletion of nutrients from the time the lettuce is harvested to the time it reaches our plate. Like mentioned earlier, it takes upwards of 10 days from farm to plate in our traditional food system. Did you know that the nutritional value found in the plant actually starts to deteriorate within the first day or two of harvesting? University of California studies show that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C, for instance, within a week. And some spinach, for example, can lose 90 percent within the first 24 hours after harvest!
Here are our tips for growing lettuce with the hydroponic Tower Garden system.
Best Growing Conditions for Lettuce
Of the many varieties of leaf and head lettuce, most prefer full sun and temperatures between 45–80˚, making lettuce a good cool season crop. Lettuce can withstand light frosts. But in hot weather, it will easily bolt (i.e., quickly grow vertically, flower and produce seeds)—and this process typically makes lettuce bitter. So if you grow lettuce in warmer conditions, plant it in partial shade or grow heat-tolerant varieties, like these:
There are five distinct types of lettuce: Loose-Leaf (45-60 days), Cos or Romaine (~70 days), Crisphead (75+ days), French (50-75 days), and Butterhead (55-75 days). With a variety of colors, shapes and flavors available, plant several types of lettuce for tasty and interesting salads. Keep in mind, all varieties of lettuce grow very well indoors with grow lights.
If you want fresh lettuce every day for salads or other dishes, we suggest growing approximately 2-3 heads of lettuce per person. The cool thing about the Tower Garden system is you can grow in up to 28 ports (base Tower Garden with one extension) in less than a 2.5′ x 2.5′ space. That means in the corner of your kitchen or dining room or on your back deck, you can have instant access to your greens any time and harvest Tower to table within a matter if minutes — not hours — not days — MINUTES! This means you and your family will get optimal nutritional value from each plant because it is being harvested at it’s peak and consumed right away.
Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden 10–14 days after sprouting, or whenever they have at least 2–3 leaves and a visible root structure. When transplanting, keep in mind that lettuce is a good crop to plant near the top of your Tower Garden.
Once you’ve transplanted lettuce into your Tower Garden, keep the pH between 5.6-6.2 as this will help the plant uptake available nutrients in your water promoting growth. Using the Tower Garden Nutrient Solution, keep the PPM range between 560-840 or an EC of 0.8-1.2 for ideal continuous growth. Ten to twelve hours of light will be sufficient. Check the back of your seed packet for maturation as it varies by lettuce type and variety (typically between 30-85 days). Also, some lettuces can be cut and come again meaning if you cut about 2″ from the base of the plant, it will regrow new leaves and thereby extending your harvest.
Download our lettuce cheat sheet that can be sliced down and put into a standard ziplock sandwich bag and used for seed storage and/or as a growing journal for what happened with your crop (we put ours on a clipboard. | download PDF |
Growing lettuce with Tower Garden decreases the chance of pests and plant diseases. But just in case, here are some potential problems:
Aphids are small insects that typically feed on young plant growth, causing it to appear puckered or deformed.
Cabbage loopers are green caterpillars that feed on the underside of lower leaves and in the center of the head of lettuce.
Cucumber beetles are yellow-orange beetles with black markings that sometimes feed on lettuce seedlings. Take care not to confuse these with ladybugs.
Botrytis, a gray-brown fuzzy growth, thrives in cool environments and can appear on plant debris that has fallen from the plant.
Downy mildew looks like fine white cotton or frosting and often infects lower plant leaves first. It can spread rapidly and kill plants in cool conditions.
Powdery mildew forms a white-gray powdery growth, usually on the upper surfaces of leaves. You’re most likely to see this common disease in late summer.
Tower Tip: Lettuce doesn’t typically suffer with aphids, especially if you’re interplanting basil at the same time (it is a deterrent to aphids.) Learn how you can naturally beat bad bugs and prevent plant diseases.
How to Harvest Lettuce
Since they grow so quickly, lettuces will be ready to harvest within a few weeks after planting. You can harvest lettuce in 2 ways:
Whole head. Remove the entire plant and net pot from your Tower Garden, or cut all the leaves off at the base of the plant. If you choose this method, be sure to have replacement seedlings ready.
Individual leaf. This technique keeps the plant alive and encourages continued production. When there are plenty of mature leaves present:
Harvest only a few leaves at a time, from the bottom of the plant upward.
Allow 2–3 leaves to remain so the plant may keep growing.
Repeat every 2–3 days until the plant bolts, or begins flowering.
After bolting, replace the plant with a fresh seedling.
We also have a handy resource that you can print off and cut down and slide into any sandwich-size Ziplock bag and use to store your seeds (limits oxygen and moisture which can be harmful to seed saving. We also print an extra sheet for our garden journal to keep records of how our crop performed so we can learn and remember what worked for the following year.
My father loved a well-manicured lawn (and still does) and we had an acre of it. (I jokingly called it a golf-course.) The dandelion was a weed to him and it was engrained in me from a young age that dandelion that had gone to seed were not to be blown for wishes. In my father’s defense, if we are to look at what a weed is, the definition states that “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.” So, in his situation, it wasn’t wanted in that space for his intended purpose. But if you grow it intentionally to use medicinally and for improving your health, we’ll then it wouldn’t be a weed, would it! In fact, I think the dandelion should return to it’s rightful status to be known as an herb — not a weed — and grown intentionally. Here’s why…
DANDELION GREENS ARE CHOCK-FULL OF NUTRIENTS
My mother shared with me recently that as she was growing up on the farm, my grandmother would go out in early spring and collect dandelion leaves to eat when fresh greens were scarce and the garden wasn’t producing yet. My grandmother was an expert in preparedness having lived through the Great Depression as a child and every year canned hundreds of fruits and veggies to use throughout the winter. The dandelion in spring was a source of vitamins A, C, K, and E, for her along with folate and small amounts of other B vitamins. The leaves also have a substantial amount of minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Picking them in early spring as she did also meant the leaves would be smaller and less bitter.
DANDELION GREENS ARE RICH IN THE PREBIOTIC INULIN
Dandelion greens are also rich in a particular prebiotic fiber called inulin. David Perlmutter, M.D. who is an expert in the human microbiome, a board-certified neurologist, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, America’s brain-health expert and #1 New York Times best-selling author has this to say about dandelions:
“Inulin, also found in foods like chicory root, Mexican yam, and Jerusalem artichoke, enhances the gut’s production of friendly bacteria like the bifidobacteria group. Boosting bifidobacteria has a number of benefits including helping to reduce the population of potentially damaging bacteria, enhancing bowel movements, and actually helping boost immune function. And new research demonstrates that higher levels of bifidobacteria may reduce colonic enzymes that may be involved in enhancing the carcinogenic effect of certain chemicals.” —David Perlmutter, M.D.
The dandelion belongs to one of the largest plant families — the sunflower. There are more than 20,000 species within this plant family, including daisies and thistles. Botanists consider dandelions to be herbs and typically use the leaves, stem, flower, and root of the dandelion for medicinal purposes.
Flückiger and Hanbury in Pharmacographia, say that the name was conferred by Wilhelm, a surgeon, who was so much impressed by the virtues of the plant that he likened it to Dens leonis. In the Ortus Sanitatis, 1485, under ‘Dens Leonis,’ there is a monograph of half a page (unaccompanied by any illustration) which concludes: ‘The Herb was much employed by Master Wilhelmus, a surgeon, who on account of its virtues, likened it to “eynem lewen zan, genannt zu latin Dens leonis” (a lion’s tooth, called in Latin Dens leonis).’ — Botanical.com
A DIURETIC FOR DEALING WITH EDEMA
The root of the dandelion can be dried and chopped up to make Dandelion Tea. It acts as a diuretic, helping those with edema. Diuretic, tonic and slightly aperient. It is a general stimulant to the system, but especially to the urinary organs, and is chiefly used in kidney and liver disorders. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, participants showed a significant increase in frequency of urination after the first two doses of Dandelion tea. Water weight, and subsequent bloating went down. Cautionary Note: “Before you begin to use dandelion tea medicinally, you may want to discuss it with your doctor – especially if you’re pregnant or have an irritable bowel,” warns Dr. Manglani.
AIDS IN DIGESTION & HELPS TO COMBAT UTI’S (UNIARY TRACT INFECTIONS)
It can also aid stomach irritation and aid in digestion. “Dandelion tea can have many positive effects on your digestive system. It improves appetite and soothes digestive ailments,” says Dr. Ritika Samaddar, Head of Dietetics at the Max Super Speciality Hospital. “According to various studies, dandelions aid our digestive system by maintaining the proper flow of bile. Dandelion tea helps with mineral absorption and soothes the stomach lining,” says Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja, Fortis Hospitals.
LOWERS BLOOD SUGAR
Various studies have shown that dandelion tea lowers levels of blood sugar and can in turn treat diabetes. It removes excess sugar that is stored in the body due to its diuretic properties and helps in stimulating the production of insulin from the pancreas. It is a great way to fight diabetes naturally,” adds Dr. Manglani.
And lastly on the topic of dandelion tea… according to Dr. Sharma, dandelion tea contains anti-cancerous properties. A study conducted in 2011 by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Windsor in Canada found that dandelion root tea was effective in killing different types of cancer as a result of its free radical-fighting abilities.
If you are growing your own dandelions for harvesting (recommended vs. risking a plant that may have been sprayed or encounter animal feces — I know, ewwwe), make sure your plant is two years old and the roots about 1/2″ thick. You’ll want to harvest around February/March when the the Inulin (a sort of sugar which replaces starch in many of the Dandelion family, Compositae) contains about 25 per cent insoluble Inulin. If growing for root production, I recommend planting in a loose soil rich in compost. Be sure to keep heads of dandelions trimmed so they don’t propagate and frustrate your neighbor’s lawn efforts.
SUPPORTS LIVER HEALTH & MAY HELP WOMEN WITH PCOS A study from 2010 showed that dandelion had a favorable affect choleretic (choleretics are substances that increase the volume of secretion of bile from the liver as well as the amount of solids secreted), anti rheumatic (agents used in the therapy of inflammatory arthritis, predominantly rheumatoid arthritis, but also idiopathic juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and others) and diuretin (increased urination as a diarrhetic) properties. They examined the effects of dandelion consumption in rabbits and found that dandelion root and leaf could help lower cholesterol in animals on a high-cholesterol diet. Another study in mice found that dandelion consumption reduced total cholesterol and levels of fat in the liver. Mice that were on a high-fat-diet supplemented by dandelion leaf extract dramatically reduced hepatic lipid accumulation compared to mice only receiving a high-fat-diet alone.The researchers concluded that dandelion might one day help treat obesity-related nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affecting 15 percent to 55 percent of women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
My hope is that this gives a little bit broader insight into the dandelion and I hope that you consider growing it as a green to add to your salads when the leaves are small and if you have the ability to keep up on the bloom cycles, grow it for two years and harvest the roots to make your own dandelion tea. There are also several brands that carry Dandelion Tea — check your local health food store. I like to fix mine with a little slice of ginger and a dash of local honey. I am getting to the point where I actually prefer it over coffee (gasp)!
Let me know what you think if you try growing it or try dandelion tea in the comments below!
Taraxacum officinalis. Perennial.
This strain forms lush heads of leaves that will rival your favorite lettuce. The leaves are tender, fleshy and dark green.
The plants spread up to 2 ft and the vitamin rich leaves can be eaten raw, boiled, stir fried and used in soup.
The roots can be eaten raw, cooked or roasted and made into a coffee substitute.
The flowers can be used to make fritters, tea and dandelion wine.
Sampler pack of 100 Seeds $0.99 1,000 seeds $4.99
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New to growing your own food in a Tower Garden? First off, kudos on your decision to take control of your own health and it all starts at the foundational level of the food we put into our body. It actually can go even deeper than that… it all starts with the parent plant that made the seed that we collect and then grow and then harvest to put into our body. But I digress…
When considering what to put into your Tower Garden, there are certain vegetables and herbs that grow well together. I have grouped these plants based on shared PPM (parts per million) values. You will need a PPM meter to measure what your water’s PPM is with the nutrient solution added.
When determining our list below, we look for areas where PPM levels share common ground (see blue vertical bars to highlight overlapping plant PPMs)… Note: this PPM reference chart is available in full for all our Tower Garden and hydroponic clients, but here’s a little snippet:
Note that some plants can tolerate higher levels of nutrients than mentioned here as these are ideal ranges for growth. You’ll know when a plant is getting too high a level when the edges of the leaves get a brown tint (called tip burn). Otherwise, know that these plant groupings are going to grow together fairly well at certain PPMs and that you can push some of the plants that are below the PPM level to the next level up in some cases…
based on the PPM of 775 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Arugula, Artichoke, Basil, Calendula (petals of flower are edible), Cilantro/Coriander, Dandelion (leaves edible & root used in tea), Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Nasturtiums (leaves & flower are edible + plant deters some insects), Oregano, Pansies (flower petals are edible), Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Violas(petals of flower are edible), Watercress.
based on the PPM of 1000 and a pH of around 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B Artichoke, Basil, Chives, Fennel, Kale, Leek, Lemon Balm, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Watercress
(Lettuce/Romaine may grow in this range as well, just watch for tip burn on the leaves — some varieties may tolerate the PPM level)
based on the PPM of 1265 and a pH of 6.0, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Artichoke, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Carnation (2′ tall, but petals of flower are edible), Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Leek, Marjoram, Menarda (Bee Balm), Mustard Greens, Parsley, Peas, Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries and Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Water Cress, Watermelon, Zucchini
based on the PPM of 1490 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Beans, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broad Bean (Fava Bean), Celery, Eggplant, Endive/Chicory, Chives, Cucumber, Kale, Melon, Mint, Okra, Hot Peppers or Sweet Bell Peppers (Note: Planting both near each other may result in cross-pollination if outdoors and open-pollinated by bees and your sweet peppers can get a bit of heat in the flavor department. If growing indoors and hand pollinating blooms, you should be fine.), Purslane, Pumpkin, Spinach, Summer Squash, Strawberries, Swiss Chard, Tomatillo, Tomato, Turnip Greens, Watermelon, Zucchini
Remember to put larger plants like kale and those that vine like peas, cucumber, and nasturtiums towards the bottom and you’ll need a support next to the Tower Garden where the vines can continue to grow out and fruit. Taller plants go towards the top (like Celery and Rainbow Swiss Chard).
based on the PPM of 1990 and a pH of around 6.5, you could grow these plants together using the Tower Tonic Minerals Formula Parts A&B: Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Dill, Hot Peppers, Sweet Bell Peppers, Tomatillo, TomatoKeep in mind that your squashes, watermelons, tomatillos, and tomatoes are going to be heavy “feeders” meaning they will drink up water and nutrients during the hotter summer days.
Okay, so now you have an idea of what plants have similar growing PPM characteristics. Select one PPM group based on vegetables and herbs you like to use every day!
Keep in mind that for most of us, lettuce has to travel quite a ways if you’re purchasing it from a big box store especially. 70%+ of all romaine is grown in Salinas, California. That means that romaine has to travel roughly 3,000 miles to get to my plate here in Atlanta, Georgia. They say on average it takes 10 days for a harvested romaine to get from the farm to our dinner plate! This is unacceptable! Especially since we know from industry studies that due to respiration rates of plants, nutrient availability decreases within the first 24-48 hours! That translates into you losing out nutritionally on the very purpose of eating that salad! So, with that in mind, simply starting by growing greens is a great place to start. I also like greens because of they mature in 4-6 weeks meaning you get to see your success (and enjoy the fruit of your efforts) earlier rather than later.
The other thing to consider regarding a salad is the number of varieties you have probably never tried because the grocery store only carries 3-4 options. I have found that some of my best salads incorporate a variety of greens and textures. Have fun exploring greens you’ve never tried before — you might find you really like them fresh off of your Tower Garden. I had always shy’d away from Bok Choy in the grocery store because it looked limp and lifeless, but when I grew it in the Tower Garden it was super tasty and I learned that I could keep harvesting for 2 months until the plant flowered. Now it’s something I always plan on growing because it can be added to soups, quinoa, and salads.
If doing a greens selection to grow on your Tower Garden, I like to recommend my clients include a nasturtium on the lower part of their Tower Garden because a) you can eat both the leaves and the flower, b) most people have never tasted a nasturtium because they are not found readily in the grocery store and most often found on the fine diner’s plate, c) they are so pretty to look at on your tower and d) they are companion plants meaning they are good to grow next to other plants to help deter certain pests… When planted alongside cucumbers. eggplant, tomatoes, or squash plants, nasturtiums may repel cucumber beetles, whiteflies, aphids and squash bugs. There are other edible flowers in this range that would be fun to explore if you’re willing to be adventurous.
If you decide to do a vining crop with a higher PPM, keep in mind space (tip: put a trellis next to where the plant’s port is and it can grow off to the side. These vining plants are often water hogs and love the sun, so plan accordingly for anything planted above them — those plants will also need to be heat tolerant. I always recommend including a flowering plant as it will attract pollinators and pollinators (aka: bees) will plump up your fruit and leave your flowering plants in a better state than how they found it.
Tomatoes are the most popular thing to grow. Ideally, you’ll want to look for varieties that have compact traits, but if you do have room next to your outdoor Tower Garden, make sure you can handle the growth habit on a trellis. My favorite tomato is an heirloom variety, Cherokee Purple, and it’s vining can reach up to 10′ or more if it’s given the nutrients it loves. (And BOY do they taste AMAZING!!!!) Cherry Tomato varieties are going to be prolific, so plan a space to support their growing needs to you have airflow and are able to easily keep pests from moving in on your crop.
Tip: If you are putting large vining plants in the lower ports of your Tower Garden. Plant to the left, right and on the back side leaving the front port open. (You may want to cover that port with a rubber disc like this.) The reason for leaving the front port unplanted is you need access to your water reservoir opening and some vines take over and make it difficult to reach it.
And my last thing to highlight is the pepper — remember that if you are growing outdoors and have hot peppers and sweet peppers both growing in your Tower Garden, you may get some cross-pollination through open-pollination and your sweet peppers might be hotter than their parent plants. It’s a good idea to just pick either hot peppers or sweet peppers if growing outdoors. Now if you’re growing indoors under lights, you can plant both hot and sweet in the same system in ports on opposite side of the Tower Garden because you will have to self-pollinate your flower buds anyway (turn a fan on to give your tower a light breeze or hand-pollinate with a toothbrush or paintbrush).
This should get your started. If you’re looking for Seed Providers, you can check out our article here.
PS: If you want a printable version of the information above to print off and to use as a reference in your garden journal, simply click here: Growing by Common PPMs.
If you have found this information to be helpful, we appreciate any donation large or small to continue our research and to keep GrowYourHealthGardening.com available as a continued resource. Thank you!
This Black Seeded Simpson seed was packaged in 2014 and we just did a germination test. We placed on a wet paper towel under bright light (lettuce needs light to germinate) at 70°F for 24 hours, covered in darkness overnight and found germination! Six-year-old lettuce seed properly stored germinated! It amazes me the life that is contained in one little seed.
Doing a quick germination test like this prior to ordering seed can save you the hassle and money of purchasing new seed. To calculate your germination rate, take the number of seeds that germinated (evident by the radical root emerging from the seed casing) and divide by the total number of seeds you put in your tray — that will give you the germination rate of your seed.
Because I use rockwool for hydroponics, we can use seeds from this germination test and transfer them into wetted rockwool and continue to grow them in ideal seed started conditions (warming mat to 70°F and bright lights). No seed is wasted! This also helps me conserve my rockwool.
To transfer germinated seeds, I take a tweezer with (the kind with a flat edge) and clean them with rubbing alcohol and finish off with a quick rinse of water. I gently pick up each germinate seed with the tweezer and drop it into the hole of my rockwool making sure to not plant the seed too deep. General rule of thumb whether sowing soil or into another planting medium like rock wool is to plant seed as deep as it is wide. I sometimes use the plastic tip of my nearby plant marker to slide it off of the tweezer tip as we don’t want to crush the seed embryo (still inside seed casing). I also plant two seeds per rockwool cube (in case one doesn’t make it for some reason.) I can always thin out to one plant as the seed grows into a seedling.
If you want tips on how long seeds can last when properly stored, check out our handy guide here.
PS: Food for thought… Jesus said you need only to have faith in Him — even if it’s as small as a mustard seed… Think of how much life is just within a little tiny seed. The giant redwood tree, for example, comes from something that is so tiny… if God can create a magnificent and awe-inspiring tree, how much MORE amazing and beautiful are you who is made in His own image.
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.””
Matthew 13:31-32 NIV https://www.bible.com/111/mat.13.31-32.niv
The key to tasty salads is incorporating a mix of lettuce varieties. The vertical hydroponic Tower Garden is perfect for packing in 28 plants within a 2.5′ square footprint. This article focuses on spring planting, but you could grow any of these plants year-round if you have purchased the light attachment for your Tower Garden keeping the indoor environment around 70ºF.
There are certain greens that do really well in colder weather and can grow in early spring after the danger of frost has passed. Here is zone 7b, we will be starting greens the first week of March to be ready to go outside the last week of March. (Will use a Weather Protection Blanket each night until Frost Date of April 12.) It’s better to not have to store seeds for longer than a year or two, so we tend to purchase from this seed provider (Seeds Now), because of the smaller quantities and lower prices. The lower cost of seeds also enables us to try more varieties to see what we like the best.
Here is a list of greens to inspire… consider starting from seed soon!
Arugula – Classic Roquette Arugula can usually be harvested as early as one month after planting. Arugula is an easy-to-grow green using any hydroponic setup you have. The leaves of the Arugula plant add a tangy/peppery flavor to any meal. We recommend picking the outer leaves when plant is still young (leaves about 3″ long) and it will continue to grow throughout the season. Approx. 150 seeds for $1.99
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Chives – Garlic Also known as Garlic Chives. A perennial plant that grows narrow, grass-like leaves that have a mild onion-like flavor. Chives are rich in vitamins A and C, contain trace amounts of sulfur, and are rich in calcium and iron. Used for many culinary creations. The plant will grow to about 12″ tall and is best suited for the top row of the Tower Garden. Once established, you can trim the entire bunch to about 3″ and the chives will regrow (cut and come again). Approx. 115 seeds for $1.99
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Endive – Green Curled Endive is a healthy and delicious leafy green and produces dark green curly leaves with large tender crisp ribs. Excellent on salads and sandwiches. Rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially in folate and vitamins A and K, and is high in fiber. Extremely easy to grow using any hydroponic setup you have. Plant this variety all-year-round using hydroponics and grow lights. Approx. 100 seeds for $0.99
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Kale – Lacinato Old Italian heirloom, rather primitive open kale with blue-green strap leaves that are 3″ wide by 10-18″ long. Perfect for making Kale Chips! Extremely easy to grow using any hydroponic setup you have. The leaves of this extremely winter-hardy variety become sweeter after a hard frost or harvest leaves when young and tender. Delicious and tender when stir-fried or steamed. Approx. 55 seeds for $1.99
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Kale – Red Russian Stems are purple with deep gray-green leaves. The plants mature medium-tall and leaves are tender compared to other kale varieties. Ideal for salads and light cooking. Extremely easy to grow using any hydroponic setup you have. Approx. 50 seeds for $0.99
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Lettuce – All Year Round As its name suggests, this is a lettuce that can be gown throughout the year. In even some of the the coldest areas across the country, this variety can be grown with some protection with a cloche or cold frame in the cooler months. Approx. 200 seeds for $1.99
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Lettuce – Gourmet/Mesclun Mix A mixture of favorite lettuce seed varieties from across the spectrum of lettuce types. Plant heavy and start harvest early for young for baby greens then allow some to grow on for plenty of variety for salads. A great way to get a lot out of little space. Perfect for container gardening. Approx. 200 seeds for $1.99
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Lettuce – Romaine, Classic Large, upright, full-bodied heads with dark-green, slightly savoyed leaves that are mild and sweet. Plant reaches about 10 inches tall. Midribs are crunchy and juicy. Because of their higher chlorophyll content, romaine lettuces are among the most nutritious of all lettuces. Approx. 135 seeds for $1.99
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Lettuce – Salad Bowl, Green The Green Salad Bowl Mix is a really easy-to-grow lettuce variety. Extremely flavorful green leafs. Continues to grow as picked. As outer leaves are picked, inner leaves keep growing. Excellent addition for salads and garnishes. A great variety for many gourmet chefs around the world. Approx. 150 seeds for $1.99
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Lettuce – Salad Bowl, Red The Red Salad Bowl Mix is a really easy-to-grow lettuce variety. Extremely flavorful red leafs. Continues to grow as picked. As outer leaves are picked, inner leaves keep growing. Excellent addition for salads and garnishes. A great variety for many gourmet chefs around the world. Approx. 150 seeds for $1.99
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Lettuce – Little Gem Crisp & refreshing lettuce variety. Sweet and crunchy. The leaves of this particular lettuce makes it idea for use in wraps and hors d’oeuvres. Easy to grow in compact spaces and smaller containers. A great variety for many gourmet chefs around the world. Approx. 200 seeds for $0.99
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Corn Salad (Mache), Dutch Corn Salad has a delicate flavor, similar to a butterhead lettuce. It is quite hardy and requires very little care while remaining practically free of pests & disease. Corn salad is also known for growing vigorously in almost any soil! We think Corn Salad tastes best right out of the garden with a light drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Once you try this cold-hardy green, you’ll be sure to make it a staple in your fall/winter gardens every year. Approx. 200 seeds for $0.99
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Swiss Chard – Hot Pink The Pink Swiss Chard produces excellent yields of dark green shiny leaves with magenta/hot pink stalks and veins. Excellent for salads, juicing, and/or steamed with others greens. Extremely healthy and easy to grow. Approx. 25 seeds for $0.99
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Swiss Chard – Gourmet Rainbow
A heirloom variety from Australia. The Rainbow Swiss Chard is a popular plant that produces some of the most amazing looking swiss chard leaves in shades of red, orange, purple, yellow, and white. Perfect for salads or steamed greens. One of this years most popular varieties to grow. Extremely healthy. Approx. 25 seeds for $1.99 | order seeds |
Purslane, Green (herb) Used in salads and can be cooked like spinach, purslane has a lemony-twang. Remove leaves from stalk and toss into your salad. Purslane contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other plant source in the solar system, and an extraordinary amount for a plant, some 8.5 mg for every gram of weight. It has vitamin A, B, C and E. In fact, it has six times more E than spinach! It also has seven times of beta carotene than carrots as well as contains magnesium, calcium, potassium, folate, lithium, iron and is 2.5% protein. You should grow this plant and toss it into your salads! Some even sauté it with onion and chili (green) and scrambled eggs. Approx. 100 seeds for $1.99 | order seeds|
Radicchio, Red Classic
Used in salads radicchio grows from orange to grapefruit size and easy to peel, the smooth, crisp leaves to offer a bitter flavor with a hint of spice.
I didn’t even know for sure how to pronounce it, let alone how to eat it. It can be even confusing in how you spell it’s name. If you see two main references: Pak choi and bok choy — don’t be alarmed… they are the one and same plant and considered part of the mustard family. Normally these plants are a bit smaller Chinese cabbage with leafy, green leaves and white stalks that have a bit of a crunch but not as stiff as celery — sort of the texture of water cress. Pak choi or bok choy, mostly grows in Asian regions like the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.
Have you seen it in the grocery store? That’s where I first noticed it and also the very reason I never tried it. Whenever I would see it in the grocery store it would be floppy limp — ewe. Gross.
But every year, I commit myself to learning how to grow at least one new plant and a couple of years ago, Bok Choy was the one that I determined to tackle growing in my vertical garden Tower Garden hydroponic growing system (what is this?). When I actually tasted this plant straight off of the Tower Garden at it’s peak… well I fell in love with it as my new green go-to. This plant wasn’t meant to travel for days and days and sit on a grocery store shelf — it’s meant to be eaten freshly harvested.
Why I love to grow these cute little plants…
They grow fast. I’m a girl that likes to see some success from my efforts and these little bundles of green goodness are ready to start harvesting in 4-6 weeks.
You don’t harvest them like they harvest Bok Choy for feeding the masses. You’re missing out on this prolific little plant that produces leave after leaf from the center. All you have to do is continue to harvest the outer leaves and maintain the center three leaves for continual growth (about a 6-8 week continual growth with multiple harvests from the same plant). When the plant grows a bloom you know your harvest period has ended and you can swap out the plant for a new seedling waiting in the wings to go into your hydroponic growing system.
Did you know that Bok Choy ranks sixth on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) for fruits and vegetables and is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods? I especially like that it is full of beneficial antioxidants and fights inflammation in the body. DRI/DV from this plant include: vitamin K (64% DRI/DV), vitamin C (59% DRI/DV),vitamin A (40%), folate (17%), calcium (16%), vitamin B6 (16%), and potassium (13%).
And I love how the leaves curl down and out a bit — sort of reminds me of a little bridal bouquet.
Varieties to try:
Purple Lady Bok Choy from RareSeeds.com is a beautiful plant and chock-full of antioxidants with it’s purple leaves and my new favorite Bok Choy to grow. (Remember half the fun of growing your own food is trying new vegetables you can’t find at your local supermarket!)
White Stem Bok Choy from our GYHG Seed Company (our own exclusive line of hydroponic-adapted seed that we grow here on our land) are a great starting point. If you want to try it without committing to a lot of seed to save, this is a great option (plant shown above and link to find seeds below).
Things to know as you grow Bok Choy / Pak Choi…
SEED STARTING: I typically see seeds germinate within 48-72 hours if using seeds from the previous growing season. I plant into rock wool and here are the conditions I recommend:
PLANTING TIMING: Transplant Bok Choy / Pak Choi starts outdoors into your Tower Garden hydroponic growing system as close to your freeze date as possible. You may want to add a water heater like this one for any freeze warnings and have a lightweight weather protection blanket specifically designed to fit a Tower Garden with one extension and have it on the ready to put over the seedlings should you get an unforeseen late freeze warning. To find the local last frost date for your area, I like this resource (less ads than the Farmer’s Almanac web site.)
Ideal Tower Garden Hydroponic Growing Conditions for Bok Choy:
Hydroponic Growing Conditions:
TEMP: Like cabbage, this plant likes to grow at 55ºF-76ºF temperature meaning it’s a spring or fall plant or grow indoors. Avoid the hot summers.
LIGHT: They tend to like 7-10 hours of light, so if you’re growing them indoors, don’t push them with extra light hours, it may actually end up slowing their growth.
PPM/EC: 1050-1400 ppm and 1.5-2.0 EC. I recommend using Tower Tonic for a well-rounded supply of minerals that will benefit you nutritionally when the plant is harvested. I use this meter and keep it in the PPM range of around 1200.
pH: Keep plants in a pH range of 5.5-6.5. I use this pH meter and this pH up and pH down to maintain the range. (Remember, plants need to be in ideal pH range for uptake of nutrients / minerals to occur.)
Air movement is always a good idea with any plants you are growing, but we are not looking for windy air circulation, just a slight breeze or moving air in the room.
Final Tip: When growing hydroponically indoors, your timer will need to be set to 15 min on and 30 minutes off. If you want to keep this plant happy, add an aerator to your reservoir. It likes to have oxygenated water—a little more than just the aeroponic benefits that typically the Tower Garden provides on most occasions. (If you’re running your Tower Garden continuously outdoors during the day, you can skip the aerator.)
Pests and Diseases to be on the lookout for while growing Pak Choi:
PESTS: Aphids like this plant as well, so plant marigolds and petunias in the area (may even put some pots at the base of your Tower Garden) and do spot checks periodically on the stems and under those bodaciously beautiful green leaves. If you see aphids moving in, rub your thumb across the plant henceforth squashing them. You can follow-up with a spray treatment of Neem Oil. Once you get aphids, if you don’t eradicate them quickly, they will multiply every three days and may take your entire crop so heed my warning and spot check every day or so under those leaves and towards the base of the plant.
How I incorporate Bok Choy / Pak Choi into my meals for nutritional benefit…
Dice up quinoa and add it to your cooked quinoa
I love it in the wonderful Coconut Chicken Bok Choy Soup that warms your tummy and satisfies — my husband claims it’s better than the one he eats at the local Thai place in Atlanta! (Whoop whoop!)
Instead of going for traditional lettuce, put on top of your next homemade burger to add some crunch and nutritional benefit
Dice and throw it on top of chickpea salad for added “crunch”
Add to any super-food smoothie for a power-packed nutritional drink on the go
The jalapeños are coming on strong with the harvest right now on the hydroponic Tower Garden by JuicePlus+, so naturally I’m finding ways to take advantage of this bounty with three recipes in mind: jalapeño jelly, candied jalapeños, and good ol’ pickled jalapeños. (Spoiler alert: fav’ recipe links at the end of this post.)
You should be eating Jalapeño Peppers — home grown Jalapeños…
Jalapeños are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and vitamin B6 and common consumption of jalapeños may reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and platelet aggregation and partially improved liver damage due to the properties of capsaicin (the spicy part of the jalapeño). (You can read more about the study here.)
As I went to slice and dice my jalapeños, the thought crossed my mind to put on some gloves, but since I didn’t feel anything as I was cutting the jalapeños, I ignored the thought and kept right on processing my crop — processing it without gloves on. I rinsed the cuttings in a sieve and proceeded to wash my hands and that’s when I began to feel the heat on my finger tips. Within 15 minutes my fingers felt like little flames had been lit. You guessed it — I had a jalapeño pepper burn on my left hand. Over the course of the evening I tried seemingly everything… scrubbing with soap and hot water, soaking in cold greek yogurt (which did feel soothing at first believe it or not), Biofreeze, pain meds, lavender essential oil, coconut oil, more scrubbing with hot water and soap followed by my black salve… no relief.
So at the stroke of midnight, as I’m laying in bed with my hand in the air hoping to catch a bit of breeze from the ceiling fan and contemplating my options in how to endure pain, my husband and I decide to do one more internet search for ideas to remove the oil from the recesses of my skin cells. I clumsily type one-handed into my phone’s internet search, “How long will jalapeño burns last?” Answer seemingly comes back in article after article that I could be suffering for several weeks if not a month! Aaaccckkk! And then I found Kendra’s post from newlifeonahomestead.com and sharing how she treated her jalapeño pepper burn. Her story seemed to match mine in trying everything the internet threw her way, but she found a solution that worked. And I shrugged my shoulders, looked at my husband and said, “Why not? Let’s try it.” So he went to the fridge and brought me… yellow mustard.
What I found to end all Jalapeño Pepper burn misery...
That’s right. Yellow mustard. We lathered it on like my fingers were hot dogs celebrating the Fourth of July. And the cold condiment felt amazing! Immediate relief! Like ice water hitting hot burning coals. I left the lather of yellow goodness on there (with a few more squirts of reapplication) for a good 35 minutes and then rinsed off with cold water. Were my fingers a little yellow? Yes. Was I in excruciating pain? Praise God, no. So I trotted off to bed.
Lesson #1: Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever cut jalapeños without wearing protective food grade gloves. Gloves should be worn while handling hot peppers and make sure you definitely don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth areas with your hands if they’ve come into contact with the Capsicum oil from Jalapeño Peppers.
Lesson #2: If by chance you do encounter jalapeño’s Capsicum oil — reach for your handy-dandy yellow mustard.
And my jalapeños that I grew on my Tower Garden? They taste AMAZING! A million times better than anything I’ve found in the grocery store.
Remember, if you eat a pepper that is too hot, don’t drink water or milk to try to extinguish the spicy flames. Liquid only spreads the heat around. Instead, it is recommended to eat some sugar or honey and/or something starchy, such as bread, crackers or potatoes.
How to grow Jalapeño Peppers hydroponically…
Here’s what jalapeño peppers need to succeed in the Tower Garden or similar hydroponic system (like a bato bucket).
Temperature: Hot peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 80°F (18-26°C) and night temperatures above 55°F /13°C (nighttime temperatures between 60° and 70° are best). In addition, daytime temperatures above 90º F inhibits fruit formation, but fruiting will happen once temperatures drop back below 90º. If growing into the Fall, be sure to have a weather protection blanket on hand for evenings that have freeze warnings.
Light: 10 – 12 hours daily (outdoors). If growing indoors, the grow lights should be for flowering plants and placed 6 to 8 inches over the pepper plants. Any closer could cause scorching, any further away and the plants will not get the full benefit of the light. As the plants mature, adjust the height of the lights to maintain the 6-8 inch distance. (It is important to note that the Tower Garden lights are not rated for growing flowering plants according to the Tower Garden Juice Plus+ website, so if growing Jalapeño Peppers on the Tower Garden, grow them outside in full sun.)
Days to Harvest: Transplants will begin to bear ripe fruit in 70 to 85 days, depending on cultivar. 70 days Green; 93 days Red Ripe.
Other helpful tips to note:
Jalapeño Pepper plants will need support. The Tower Garden‘s support cage will work perfectly for holding up these plants. Plant them on the lower three tiers of your hydroponic vertical Tower Garden as they will grow to about 3′ in height (remember, things grow faster and typically bigger in a hydroponic system because you’re giving the plant everything it needs to thrive.)
Peppers don’t continue to ripen well off the plant (like tomatoes), so harvest when they are ready and process immediately if possible.
Peppers can be kept in the refrigerator, but avoid moisture. Avoid washing the peppers before refrigerating them, and dry them if they have dew or water from the irrigation system. Store them in a paper towel towards the top of the refrigerator.
Bacterial Spot: Bacterial spot can be seed borne. Purchase seed from a reputable source like Johnny’s Seeds or Seeds Now (100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO). Johnny’s pepper seed lots are tested for bacterial spot.
If planting for a fall crop in the Atlanta, Georgia (zone 7) region, the following are average freeze dates:
Even with a thick stalk like this, they still need support.
Grow jalapeños for their health benefits, but be prepared when it comes to processing these little gems of nutrition as they can cause serious jalapeño pepper burns on your hands if you don’t wear gloves.
Here are a few recipes I’ve personally tried. Maybe you and your family will enjoy them as well: