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How to grow your own delicious, economical edible plants indoors

With the right light, seeds and containers, your kitchen can become a greens-growing garden.

NO MATTER THE weather, you can get a jump on spring by growing your own tender greens indoors. You don’t have to have a yard — or even a green thumb — to grow edible plants right in your own kitchen.

Years ago, when it seemed microgreens punctuated nearly every dish at upscale restaurants, I started growing savory sprouts next to my kitchen sink. With a shallow container, potting soil and an organic seed mix, I was able to grow those trendy microgreens in less than a week, for a fraction of what I might have paid at a store. They can be snipped with scissors when they’re about 1 inch high and tossed on top of salads, meats, fish or virtually any other dish.

My favorite seed mix is “microgreens savory mix” by  Botanical Interests. This collection contains 10 fabulous plants, including radishes, beets, mustards and kohlrabi. Botanical Interests offers many options, including a spicy mix of mustard and peppergrass seeds, and another blend of bitter Italian chicories.

Another favorite in early spring is pea shoots. These are grown similarly to microgreens, but are best when harvested about 3 inches to 4 inches tall (10 to 20 days) to grace plates and salads. While there’s nothing like the fresh flavor of peas after a long dark winter, you might just want to grow them year-round.

Baby salad greens are also easy and rewarding to grow indoors. Green and red lettuces, mesclun, arugula, mustard, kale and spinach will be ready in about three to four weeks. Harvest when the plants are about 2 inches to 4 inches tall, by cutting just above the soil line. Rather than choosing only one variety, I like to use a seed mix that produces a salade composée of different colors and textures.

Studies show that baby plants and microgreens are packed with 40 times the nutrients of their mature counterparts. Plus, homegrown plants are fresher and cheaper than store-bought organic produce.

In order to have a steady supply of delicate, tasty greens at your fingertips, you can “sow successively,” which sounds fancy but just means plant more seeds every couple of weeks.

Antsy to get started? Here’s how: First, it’s a matter of light. Alex LaVilla, the perennials buyer for Swansons Nursery, says, “The problem in Seattle is lack of sun. Plants will get leggy without enough light.” If you plan to make a habit of growing indoors, investing in a full-spectrum grow light is a good idea. But if you’re eager to try a batch of greens, just pick your brightest window, and turn the container as the plants stretch to follow the light.

Next: seeds. Botanical Interests and Renee’s Garden are two great brands, available at Swansons, other nurseries and garden stores. You’ll also need a bag of sterile potting soil. “Seed-starting mix is best because it’s finer,” LaVilla adds.

Finally: containers. Plenty of nifty seed-starter kits are out there if you’re so inclined, but why spend money if you can reuse containers? Old plastic nursery trays or plastic clamshells from berries, cherry tomatoes or takeout food would be just fine after a good cleaning. Any shallow container will work. If it’s not made of a porous material, simply put holes in the bottom for drainage, set it over a tray and water occasionally.

When growing plants longer than a month or so, LaVilla recommends fertilizing lightly with a mild, all-purpose organic liquid feed like Dr. Earth. But no need to fertilize those delicate microgreens that are ready in just a week.

Although local strawberries and peas might still be weeks away, you can enjoy a bounty of gourmet greens, right from your kitchen counter.

Catherine M. Allchin, Special to The Seattle Times

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