Homegrown Winter Salads

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I haven’t posted about it in a while, but I’m still growing shoots and sprouts as part of my Winter Growing Challenge, and I am loving my homegrown winter salads! I’ve modified my methods for growing shoots this year, and─so long as I remember to soak the seed on a regular basis─I’ve been harvesting 1 flat of pea shoots, and 1-2 quarts of sprouts per week. These have been a refreshing addition to our family’s typical winter-fare, and especially great on those days when I’m in the office at Johnny’s all day.

homegrown winter salad

A big bowlful of freshly harvested, homegrown pea-shoots!

These homegrown winter salads are great, because you can keep them simple, or get as elaborate with them as you like; so long as there’s some kind of leafy green forming the foundation of the dish, it’s still classified as salad. I’ve drizzled vinaigrette dressing over a bowlful of pea shoots and called it salad; but typically I like to at least have some shredded carrot and thinly sliced onion in my salads, and some kind of cheese too.

Up until recently, my two boys have always been exceptionally good eaters. William especially has always been fond of vegetables and fruits, and─while he will certainly eat cookies and candies if given the opportunity─he would also just as readily take an apple or even a pepper or raw mushrooms as a snack. Imagine my surprise when I set this big beautiful bowl of homegrown winter salad on the table, only to have William exclaim in dismay, “Salad again!?”

I suppose, at nearly 16 years old, such a reaction from my eldest son is not so unusual…I’ll hope it’s a passing phase and keep growing these greens anyway.

BraeTek and I have enjoyed several homegrown winter salads. He’ll be 12 in a month, and so far the only food he really doesn’t care for is tomatoes.

I’ve even bestowed a few salads upon colleagues in the office─trying to share the love. Love for homegrown winter salads. Love for fresh greens. Love for real food and self-sufficiency. And just love in general; it’s nice to know someone cares, right?

If you recall─last year, due to tight living quarters, I only had a dresser drawer for germination, and a small rack in front of a kitchen window for growing out my shoots. I was using 4×6-inch aluminum loaf pans, and even with 3-5 of those per week, we just didn’t seem to eat as much salad as I had hoped for.

This year, thanks to the spacious, rambling house that came with Runamuk’s #foreverfarm, I’ve been able to significantly step up my efforts to produce fresh leafy greens in the form of shoots and sprouts. I brought the grow-rack that I’d constructed back in 2015 into the house, and set up my grow lights on it. I put my soil in a bin, and in another I put all of my seeds for shoots, sprouting, and microgreens, so they’d be in one central location, and easily accessible for use. To house seeds while they soak, and for storing associated equipment, I’m using this wooden cabinet. It’s a pretty sweet set-up.

winter growing grow station

My winter growing station! Love this set-up!

Instead of the 4×6-inch aluminum loaf pans, I purchased Johnny’s Shallow Black Germination Trays, which are perfect for shoots and micros. Ideally I would have invested in the Hard Plastic Perma-Nest Trays as well, because these trays have drainage slots in them and in order to prevent excess water from going onto my carpet I need to have some way to catch it. Finances are tight though, so I’ve opted to hold off on the perma-nest trays, and I’m making do with an over-turned humidity dome for the time being. It’s not elegant, but it works.

Note: I’m all too familiar with tight financial situations, but don’t let that keep you from growing your own winter greens! Check out “Repurposed Containers for Growing Shoots” for possible alternative tray ideas that won’t eat into your budget.

homegrown winter salads

“Seed weighing station”

I’ve found .3lb of pea shoot seed works very nicely on the 1020 trays, so I just weigh out the seed into a bowl, cover the seed with water and place the bowl in my wooden cabinet overnight. The next day I fill a tray with soil (I keep the soil in my bin pre-moistened), spread the seed even across it, water them in, and cover with a damp cloth. The covered flat of seeds is placed on a shelf on the grow rack, but I don’t turn the lights on until germination has occurred and the seeds begin to sprout. At that point the cloth can be removed, and, with the fixtures positioned just above the trays (you don’t want plants to have to stretch for the light), I flip the switch on the lights.

Note: for more detailed instructions check out this article I wrote last year: How to Grow Shoots for a Supply of Leafy Green Vegetables This Winter.

I usually have to water the trays about every other day. Before germination occurs, I water right through the cloth that covers the seeds. After that, bottom watering would be preferred, but my current set up makes that impossible, so I just gently water from above─just enough to moisten the soil.

After about a week my pea shoots are ready to harvest. 1 of these flats fills a 1 gallon storage bag for me, and will keep very well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

My sprouts are in a cupboard in the kitchen; I like to keep them next to the sink since they require twice daily rinses. These are simply pint-sized mason jars that hang out among my drinking glasses. I have a scrap of linen that I keep near the sink, which I pull out to drain the seeds after a rinse, then the jar goes back into the dark cupboard until the sprouts have their first sets of leaves. Once that happens I’ll take the jar and place it in a sunny window to green the leaves up, and then the sprouts are stored in a Ziploc bag stashed in a drawer of the fridge.

I’ve been crazy busy since I bought the farm, and now that “Busy Season” is upon us in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, I’m spending 4 days a week off the farm. I feel like I’m always running, running, running; there’s so much to be done and I’m just one woman─so I’ve streamlined processes, and set up systems that allow me to perform tasks as efficiently as possible. I like my shoot-and-sprout production systems. I even have a salad-system, because on mornings when I’m getting ready to go to Johnny’s, preparing a salad for lunch is usually asking too much of myself.

On those mornings, by the time I get both boys off to school, feed and water 70 animals, shut down the big old house and make sure I have myself in order, often I’m running late and don’t have time to shred carrots or slice onions. So I’ve taken to keeping shredded carrot and cheese, and a sliced onion in Ziploc baggies in the fridge, which makes it super easy for me to literally throw a salad into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and head out the door.

These greens seem almost to burst in your mouth when you chew them, so fresh and full of life-giving nutrition. When I’m sitting there in my cubicle at Johnny’s, tethered to their phone, eating my homegrown salad─I feel like I’m spoiling myself a little. Or maybe this is what “taking care of yourself” looks like, lol. Either way, I’m super happy with my homegrown winter salads.

Who else is growing their own fresh, leafy greens this winter? Leave a comment below to share with us what you’re growing! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm. Thanks for following along!

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