Saturday, April 3, 2010


Baby greens by the drawer full - sound crazy?  No, not at all and I think you will love this simple living idea.  It reduces waste, reuses, recycles and gets you a great caesar salad for your trouble - who could ask for more?  The trick is intensive planting of salad greens in re-purposed dresser drawers culled from throw away furniture in the garbage stream.  It is a great simple living way to reduce waste, maximize garden space and hopefully cheat the summer heat.

Well, I must confess, this is more of an early press release than a report of success in the home gardens of Shadows End. Due to many things, mostly related to inertia, I did not get my spring garden planted until the middle of March. This puts me back into the age old dilemma – is it too late to plant “that” in Florida. It can be quite a challenge because the Florida spring can easily turn fierce and hot long before summer actually gets here. For the most part – planting guides that one finds on the seed packets are totally useless for Florida. You can check the Florida extension service for local planting dates – or you can gamble.

I had so wanted to get in a good heavy crop of lettuces before the heat hit. But all I have managed to get out is a small patch of Bok Choy. It is doing quite well and I am sure I will be fine as long as I monitor the heat and start harvesting before we hit 80 degrees as a nighttime low. But unfortunately, I did not get any leaf lettuce, or arugula or spinach set out in the regular garden.

I could just give up of course and move on to warm weather crops like field peas and collards. But I really want some salad greens this year and so I am going to try a trick I have in mind. My goal is to become more and more self sufficient and self reliant and this is a perfect opportunity to work on both.

What I have in mind is this. I am going to fill small portable containers with potting soil and compost. Then I will randomly sow a fair amount of lettuce, arugula and spinach seed. I will place the containers in the cooler, semi-shaded areas of the home garden to keep them from getting over heated. Starting in the second week, I will begin to clip out baby greens until I thin them enough to grow, eventually I will have a properly spaced bed and I will see if the final plants can make it to full maturity before the heat hits. If not, I will still have been able to harvest an early supply of baby greens which will be great in salads. Here is how I intend to do it.


My plan is to use dresser drawers that I rescued from roadside garbage. It is common to see old dressers on the side of the road as I drive home at night. I managed to collect five drawers and I intend to re-purpose them as lettuce beds. Drawers are shallow and light and perfect dimensions for easy portable seed beds. Lettuce and in fact most greens and herbs all have shallow root systems and can easily prosper in the 4 to 8 inches of rich soil. All you need to do really is poke a few drainage holes in the bottom. Of course, they will not last forever exposed to the rain and elements. But that is not the point; they were headed to the landfill. I can use them to grow seedlings, until they rot and then they can be composted. People will likely laugh, but let them. This is one simple living idea that is a true win / win solution.


The soil will need to be rich and light. I filled the bottom of my drawers with a shallow layer of leafs raked from my neighbor’s yard. Next I sprinkled on a thin layer of composted chicken manure. (I used chicken, but you can buy cow manure from the home store if you lack chickens). Then I filled the rest with a mixture of store bought potting soil and rich organic matter from my composter. The final mix needs to be rich, but light and the leaves and manure really help with this.


Pick your favorite mix of greens. You can do a pure lettuce crop or mix in mustards, collard, arugula etc. Do not use seed from any type of head lettuce and it can take almost twice as long to mature as leaf varieties. If you can find it, buy the seeds in bulk. You can get 4 to 20 times as much seed in bulk as you would get for the same money spent on the packets. Rake the soil loosely and sprinkle in the seeds fairly liberally. In a perfect world you would like one seed every square inch. Just shake and pray, it’s what I do.


Keep the soil lightly moist – not wet. Keep it out of hot sun. If needed you can move the drawers into a semi shaded area on really hot days. Remember heat is the bane of lettuce. If they have to do with a little less light – so be it. Just do not let them overheat or they will bolt. Bolting is when a plant starts to set seeds, it will send up flower shoots and get bitter and tough.


As soon as the seeds sprout and get to be about 3 to 4 inches tall, begin to harvest. Due to the relatively heavy seeding, there will be a lot of baby plants. The plan is to quickly thin them out to around 2 to 3 inches apart by the end of the second week. Begin a second harvest phase when the plants hit about 5 or 6 inches and pick until you have them thinned out to around 4 to 6 inches apart. Then, if weather allows, I should be able to let these final plants grow to maturity. It should take approximately 40 days from seed to maturity. The odds of harvesting fully mature lettuce depends on the late spring weather. It is a gamble, like I said. But in the meantime, you will have had 2 ongoing harvests of salad greens.

A couple of big bowls of salad may not sweep you into self sufficiency. But learning the principles of intensive planting will go a long way towards giving you the garden skills that can make you more self reliant. Day by day, as your home garden grows – so will your confidence.

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