I grow lettuce all winter and do nothing more than plant and harvest. No watering, no daily inspection of soil, no anything except fresh greens when others are picking over the tired grocery variety.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/IVONNE WIERINK
Growing plants indoors can be a pain but not at my house,
now that a few suggestions passed on to me by a
professional have taken a lot of the worry and work out of
this project. As a result, I grow lettuce all winter and do
nothing more than plant and harvest. No watering, no daily
inspection of soil, no anything except fresh greens when
others are picking over the tired grocery variety. In the
spring, my mini garden is converted to a plant starter for
the outdoor patch. Once again, the Sow and Forget Method
of starting seeds makes the job easy and trouble-free, with fantastic
Starting Seeds Using an Indoor Planting Method
The basic tool behind the Sow and Forget Method is a supply
of wicking. This isn't easy to find, but is certainly worth
looking for and lasts for years once you have it.
The wicking I use looks like ordinary sash rope but is made
of fiberglass (there may be other types I'm not familiar
with, so I'm open to feedback). Apparently this handy
material is so little known that few garden stores stock
it. The only outlet I've found here in Cincinnati is the
Garden Center, which buys the wicking wholesale in rolls
and sells it by the foot as a non-profit service to garden
club members and area residents.
You'll also find wicking
listed on the back page of Melinger's Garden Catalog. The product
sold by that firm is primarily designed for watering potted
plants, but could probably be adapted to flats. Perhaps
MOTHER'S General Store could include a roll of wicking on
one of her shelves.
The beautiful thing about this indoor
gardening aid is that it eliminates all concern about how
much water to give young plants. The wick delivers exactly
the right amount of moisture at all times automatically.
Here with thanks to the professional who taught me is how
to use wicking effectively.
Cut the cord into lengths of approximately 10 inches and
fray about three inches of one end. Then poke a hole in the
bottom of your planting container, feed the unfrayed end
through from inside, and spread the raveled portion to
cover as much as possible of the pan's surface. Finally,
dump in the potting soil.
How many wicks to use depends on the size of the container.
I insert three if I'm planting a standard 11 inch by 21 inch flat,
and four for a plastic dishpan lettuce bed. That may be
more than necessary in the second case, but the moisture
does have to be drawn through five or six inches of soil
and I want to make sure there'll be plenty. There is, and
the crop flourishes. I suppose the best rule to follow is
to cover at least three-fourths of the container's bottom
with frayed wicking. This will assure every plant of easy
access to water.
The unfrayed ends of the wicks will be left dangling about
five or six inches below your flat or planting container.
Fill a second vessel with water (I use plastic dishpans for
this too A and place the flat or lettuce bed right on top.
Make certain the cords have more than just their tips
hanging in the liquid. The farther down they hang, the less
you have to be concerned about replenishing water in the
The soil which is so efficiently moistened by my wicking
consists of equal parts of peat moss, leaf mulch, and
topsoil. This mixture is fed to my earthworm colony for
several months to give the little critters time to work
their fertilizing magic. I've been told that a poorer grade
of earth is better for starting seedlings because it forces
them to root out more. I get healthy plants that make the
trip to the garden with hardly a complaint, however, so I'm
happy with my own formula.
According to my professional advisor, milled sphagnum moss
used as a planting medium provides seeds with near perfect
conditions for germination. The product is easily obtained
from any garden store or through the mail from most seed
companies. You don't need a great deal of the sphagnum moss
a five pound sack will last me several seasons. To use the
planting medium, soak it in water and spread a thin layer
over the potting soil in the container. Scatter the seeds
and cover them with another thin layer of moss. This tucks
the future plants into a moist, sterile blanket.
Why sterile? You'll know if you've ever lost a planting
from damping off. This fungus disease — which attacks young
plants and causes them to rot at the root — is much less
likely to occur when a sterile medium is used.
If you don't want to spend the money for milled sphagnum
moss, you can sterilize your own potting mixture. Just put
the earth in a container about four or five inches deep and
bury a small potato in the middle. Stick it in an oven at
200° Fahrenheit and when the potato is done, the soil will be
Once I have my container planted, it goes under lights. I
use two fluorescent fixtures, four feet in length, each
holding two bulbs ... one grow light and one regular
fluorescent tube. Vegetables, and most flowers, don't need
total grow–light illumination and the use of a standard
bulb saves money. I find that this setup will take four
flats or four lettuce beds, which is plenty for my needs,
There you have it: good eating all winter and an almost
guaranteed, trouble-free method of raising plants come
spring. Move over, Ruth Stout!