Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Watercress as a home garden green

Watercress – good news and bad and still unknown

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start a small hydro culture experiment here at Shadows End. I am always thinking of ways to make my tiny little homestead more self reliant. With a plot of land barely 1/12 of an acre I do not have a lot of room to waste. However, I do have a tiny patch surrounding my water fountain that seems to be doomed to infertility. There is an unusual concentration of tree roots from Deidre, she is a Florida maple and since they are a swampland tree, they have very shallow roots. Basically, the entire area is a mass of quarter inch roots tangled into a dense mat.

To make matters worse, the fountain is prone to constant splashing and the soil surrounding it has become waterlogged and sour. I have tried many things to correct it but not even heavy lime treatments seem to help only a little. Well, between these two obstacles I mostly grow things in pots around the fountain.

Then I decided to try out an idea I have been bouncing around in my head for years. Why not grow watercress? It is a plant that can grow wild anywhere there is fresh running water. Well, with all the birds that bathe daily in my fountain I do not know how fresh it is – but it does run. Watercress can grow in damp soil all the way to 2 inches of water of running water. So I read up on the subject and it seemed to me that a fleshy plant that grows in water would surely root from cuttings. So I ran down to the store to pick up a package of cress from the vegetable department. $2.28 and it was mine and on the way home.

For the sake of experimentation I planted it three ways. I took the weakest third and planted it directly in the soil surrounding the fountain. I used the worst part because frankly I was sure it was doomed to fail in that miserable soil. It wasn’t very kind of me and truthfully I did such a poor job I do not think the little plant had much chance to survive.

I took the best third of my watercress and planted it in a 6 inch plastic pot with some sandy soil. I then took the plastic pot and placed it within a snug fitting ceramic pit with no drain hole. The idea was that water splashing from the fountain would catch in the drainless outer container and overflow. Thus I was hoping to recreate the environment of a creek bed.

The middle portion of cress I took and cleaned well. I removed all the dead or damaged leaves and removed any decaying edges from the stems. Then I placed the 5 or 6 largest springs of watercress directly into the largest bowl of the water fountain. Nobody said that cress will grow directly in water with no soil, but it seemed like a logical gamble.

Those were the three methods I used and these are the results one month later. The poorly planted little scrub that went directly in the soil has died. I cannot honestly tell if it died from the sour soil or if I simply did not plant it well enough. I intend to try again, but this time I will use rooted baby plants and be sure to work in enough soil to give the roots good purchase.

The second attempt to grow it directly in the fountain has had mixed results. At first it seemed a huge success. Roots began forming within 3 days and it seemed destined to be a great way to grow watercress. However in a couple of weeks I noticed that even though I was still seeing signs of coming growth the plants were not getting any bigger. In fact after the 3rd week it began to look like they were disintegrating as fast as they were growing. I was very disappointed. Then, I realized why I was always finding little bits of cress in the water. I had inadvertently put out a nice salad bar for the blue jays. I saw two of them settling down for brunch one day and realized that’s why they never seemed to grow. So technically, growing cress directly in a water fountain is a success. It would be a great way to supplement home garden greens in a small homestead. But practically, it may not yield much food for me – as the blue jays harvest it daily. All in all, I still see it as a step forward to self reliance. If for no other reason than that it reduced my bird feed bill it is a small homestead success.

The last method using a regular pot and a non drained one is a total winner. The fountain splashes have kept the water in the two pots fresh and clean. The cress has grown strong and swiftly. The leaves are dark green and have a wonderful peppery taste. It is awesome tossed into tomato soup or on salads. Watercress has many traditional recipes associated with it and I will be trying some more soon. I would have to say this seems a great way to keep a gracious supply of watercress at my fingertips and also get something green and wholesome to grow in that dreary bog around the fountain.

Using free floating cress in the fountain not only feeds the birds but also adds color to the fountain - it is a great idea. Raising it for human consumption using the 2 pot method seems a great success also. I am even going to try planting it direct in the soil next week and give that method one more chance. Watercress may not be fields of wheat or a silo of corn, but it is a tiny step towards self reliance in my tiny homestead in the city.


  1. I love watercress! Can u post a photo of your 2 pot system? :}

  2. Yes I will do so as soon as I can find my camera LOL I think the luddite in me hid it again because it is not in the closet.


Thank you so much for your comments. Feedback is the surest way to drive content towards areas you would like to see more of