With colder weather approaching lettuce is a commodity in the organic garden which goes off the menu. Lettuce-based salads can easily be replaced however with homegrown sprouts and garden greens and flowers provided by mother nature. The benefits for the environment and yourself are many, not only is there less packaging waste and CO2 emissions from trucking produce distances but you can guarantee your product has no herbicides or fertilisers added.
Sprouts have got to be one of the easiest things for the organic gardener to grow as well as being one of the healthiest food choices. They contain many disease-preventing phytochemicals and many are rich in Vitamin D, Vitamin C, protein, isoflavones, and antioxidants. The trend to 'grow your own' first began in the 1970s and today is still a great way to introduce children to gardening. The short time that it takes seeds to sprout, about a week, is ideal for inquisitive youngsters keen to try their ' homegrown' produce. Almost any kind of seed can be sprouted but be careful to ensure the seed is organic and has not been genetically modified. Mung bean, broccoli, lentil, radish, and alfalfa seeds are a few that you might like to try.
Whether using a seed sprouting container kit (which is definitely worth the investment) or wide-lidded jars, the process of sprout generation is the same. In my experience, I have found old mayonnaise jars to be the ideal size if you are doing it yourself. Cover them with a draining filter - either mesh, cheesecloth, or (washed) old stockings and secure them with a rubber band. First, soak the seed, 2 tablespoons of seed in two inches of water for two hours, then drain. Every day rinses the seeds for ten seconds with fresh water, morning and night, swirl the seeds around and drain again. Use a fork to break up the seeds if they start to clump together. Before serving remove the hulls that have risen to the top of the container and ensure they are eaten in a couple of days for optimal freshness. It's that simple.
Sprouts are cheap but if you are a bit more adventurous you might want to try something that is free - a 'lawn salad' - salad greens from your lawn! Spending a couple of hours foraging for food with your children is not only a great way to spend time with them but should encourage them to eat healthy as they are always more inclined to eat what they have helped prepare. Of interest is that wild foraging is a practise of "freeganism". Wikipedia defines freganism as "an anti-consumerist lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed". The lifestyle involves salvaging discarded, unspoiled food which has not passed its expiry date from supermarket dumpsters, known as dumpster diving. Plate scraping, wild foraging, gardening, and barter are also alternatives to paying for food that freegan's advocate. The movement started in the 1990s out of the antiglobilisation and environmentalist movements and is more a political statement than one of need. Although it does save consumers money, the movement has been spurred on by public outrage at the unnecessary dumping of food by large multinationals and their distributors. One billion dollars of food is dumped in the US alone each year. Freeganism highlights some important world issues, and it might be a subject that you want to serve at your next dinner party, maybe with your lawn salad.
Dandelion greens often form the basis of lawn salads to which you can add young plantain, wood sorrel, violet, chicory, purslane, oxalis leaves, lambs quarters, and onion weed. To decorate your salad finish with tiger lily petals or nastursium flowers which will add a peppery taste. Red clover, rose petals, forsythia, and violet petals are also edible although rose petals should be avoided if you have a heart condition.
Let's not forget too that the garden is not the only medium to grow your own salad greens. If you really want to extend the salad season so that you can harvest all year round, bring your greens indoors. With cut-and-come-again techniques, salad mixes such as lettuce, endive, rocket, mizuna, and oriental greens can be harvested when they are 5cm tall and let to regrow. Happy gardening!