Q&A with Peter Burke, author of Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening

Do you find yourself lamenting the end of the growing season because your salad bowl is now devoid of fresh-from-the-garden salad greens? The end of the growing season doesn't have to mean the end of salad freshness. Did you know that you can grow all the fresh salad greens you need for the winter months (or throughout the entire year) with no lights, no pumps, and no greenhouse with nothing more than a cupboard and a windowsill? Peter Burke's book, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, tells you how!  Read on for an interview with Peter as well as find out how to win a copy of his book, courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing! To learn more about Chelsea Green Publishing, visit their website and connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

What are soil grown sprouts and why should I be replacing the leafy greens (such as lettuce and spinach) in my salad bowl with them?

Soil grown sprouts are the tender young stems and seed leaves of specific vegetables grown in soil as opposed to in jars. The growing technique I describe in my book, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, encourages a long, straight stem without expansive roots and allows the seed leaf to open fully. Using a series of simple steps, including starting the growing process in the dark, you can produce a crop of nutrient-dense greens in less than 10 days. You can use soil sprouts to replace your leafy greens if you want to or need to, but if your greens are fresh from your garden I would simply add the sprouts as an extra healthy ingredient to your salad. The unfortunate situation, and this is especially true in the winter months, is that much of what is available to us in the market for fresh greens are many days old and even many weeks in transit, or in cold storage in a warehouse somewhere before we get them from the store. These greens I would not hesitate to say yes, you want to replace them just for the sake of freshness. And with greens, "freshness" means just picked and chopped for your salad. 2. How does your book help people new to indoor gardening and/or growing soil sprouts easily acclimate to the process? Everything in my book is a result of years of doing workshops and getting feedback from my students as well as my own experience with growing soil sprouts. So I can say with complete confidence that this is a 'field tested' manual. I have provided several ways to read this book. People can look at the pictures and read the captions. There are over 100 color photos in the book to illustrate each step of the growing process in detail. One can refer to the "Quick Stat" page where the technique is illustrated in 18 easy steps. Or if you enjoy hearing the whole story, you can read how I developed the techniques including my mistakes. Any one of these avenues of access will give you the information you need to have a successful indoor garden. 3. Can I grow the sprouts of any plant or would I be receiving mixed results? What sprouts are solid choices to grow indoors? Soil sprouts are very specific varieties of seeds. Not all vegetables make good soil sprout candidates. I touch on all the different types of seeds I have tried in Part III Chapter 15 of Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. For instance, most beans do not taste good, but French Lentils make an excellent soil sprout. It is a trial and error affair, but I found the best seeds to use for soil sprouts are Sunflower, Radish, Buckwheat, Peas and Broccoli. I discuss these five seed varieties in my book and even include a number of healthy recipes to help you make the most of your harvest. 4. What should I take into consideration in order to determine if year-round indoor salad gardening is for me? There are several reasons people enjoy indoor gardening with soil sprouts. It is a great way to have plants in your house as both food and decoration. I know there is a special thrill having colorful, lush trays of greens growing on the windowsill all winter - it is the cure for winter blues and cabin fever! If you are a committed locavore and need fresh greens for your diet you will enjoy growing soil sprouts knowing there is nothing more local or fresh that the greens you harvest from your windowsill. If you are a penny pincher and avoid fresh salad greens because they cost 10 to 25 dollars a pound you will relish the money you save on organic greens you grow for your family for under 2 dollars a pound. 5. Who does this book hearken to? For example - Is this book geared for the casual salad eater or for those who regularly eat a lot of salad or for someone in between? Is the book practical for those in different living situations - such as those living solo or those within a large family? One of the great things about growing soil spouts is how adaptable it is to different circumstances. From a small apartment or dorm room with limited light, to a large sunny homestead kitchen, this technique can be adapted to any environment and can grow as much or as little as you want. Although compact in size this is not a "toy" garden but a very productive growing method. You can grow all the greens for regular salads or just enough to add gourmet garnish in a salad. For those living solo, I recommend growing a mix of seeds in one tray. For example, my stepdaughter and her husband grow two trays a day with a mix of seeds all summer when living in their cabin in Canada.  Another example is when I know my boys are going to be home I like to grow a few extra trays of sunflower greens because they like to heap them up on sandwiches. Because it is such a short growing cycle it is easy to adjust to what is going on in your busy life. 6. When you discuss indoor salad gardening with people, what is one thing that people find most surprising about it? In my classes, what impresses people the most is the large amount of greens that can be grown in such a small space in such a short time. I, myself, have grown up to six pounds of greens per day using just the windowsills in my kitchen and mudroom. Of course, after class, when they actually get to sample an all-soil-sprout salad, it is love at first bite.

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WIN A COPY OF YEAR-ROUND INDOOR SALAD GARDENING!To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, January 14, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:"What type of soil sprouts would you like to grow indoors?"The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 1/20/2016: Congratulations to Kelley Hooker, the winner of Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening!

Shelley Pierce

Shelley Pierce was a writer for Gardening Know How, contributing to hundreds of articles for the site.