FROM THE RANCH | Economical Container Gardening and the Salad Factory Experiment

Posted on November 19, 2010 by Scott Kleinrock | Comments (7)

The salad factoryWelcome to the first post on the salad factory, an experiment to see if in both quantitative and qualitative terms, container gardening is "worth it." It is an easy to set up, relatively inexpensive grid of plastic storage tubs converted to grow a diversity of salad greens and herbs including varieties of lettuce, kale, chard, mustard, mizuna, nasturtiums, salad onions, cilantro, endive, escarole, and more.

Having grown food in containers for a number of seasons, I am often left wondering at the end of the season if the small harvest of tomatoes, couple bunches of carrots, or few bush beans I was able to coax out of the investment of money, space, time, and water (especially in LA area valley conditions) was worth it. This season, we are turning our container gardening attention on the Ranch to salad greens and herbs for a number of reasons:

• By regularly harvesting only the outer leaves of these plants, one can continue harvesting off the same plants for a long period of time (and get more total yield than harvesting an entire head).

• Many salad plants are relatively short rooted and well adapted to container culture.

• Salad greens are a crop for which having a fresh supply at home provides a qualitative difference compared to what one can buy at a local market or farmers market. There is no replacement for a salad picked just moments before eating it.

• Many salad greens are relatively "light feeders" which makes the task of maintaining fertility in containers easier. (Plants in containers need to be fertilized more than plants in the ground, because nutrients get washed out of containers through repeated watering).

Watering can be done by hand or through a simple micro-spray system which can be hooked up to a timer on a hose bib. We will be making some changes to our micro-spray system next week and will detail the entire process of designing and building such a system on the blog soon.

We will be gathering data on the harvest to post at the end of the season, so you can see one example of how much such a system may yield. We are also growing some of the same and similar varieties in "traditional" round containers and raised beds as comparisons and will post data on those as well.

Five ½" holes drilled in the bottom for drainage

Five ½" holes drilled in the bottom for drainage

Seeded mesclun mix ready for a delicious thinning.

Seeded mesclun mix ready for a delicious thinning. (The seed was broadcast densely, and we will continually clear more room for plants to develop by harvesting entire baby plants, leaving more space for those left to grow. Do this by cutting plants at the surface level instead of pulling them up which may damage the roots of nearby plants left to continue growing.)

4-Transplanted Mizuna (left) and Osaka Purple Mustard (Right) ready for their first harvest of outer leaves.

Transplanted Mizuna (left) and Osaka Purple Mustard (Right) ready for their first harvest of outer leaves. The mustards (Mizuna is a mustard as well) are extremely fast growing and will often be the first cool season crops to enjoy. Can you taste the stir fry?

Check back next week for an introduction to our food forest:

Grow Your Vegetables Like Weeds and Thank Your Weeds for the Mulch (and all of this under Fruit Trees!): The Experimental Food Forest at the Huntington Ranch

beet greens growing wild among the grasses

Beet greens growing wild among the grasses


Scott Kleinrock is the Ranch project coordinator at The Huntington.


Have you tried self-watering containers? They perform much better than standard planters.

Thanks for the interest. There are a variety of reasons we have chosen to focus on "traditionally watered" containers. These include ease and cost of set up and flexibility of choices with soils (most users of self watering containers tend to use soils high in peat for the moisture wicking action, but I tend to avoid peat based soils). I believe we can achieve very high water efficiency with automatic micro-spray systems, which we are experimenting with and will be detailed on the blog soon. That being said, I am interested in self watering containers and plan to do a sort of "head to head" comparison between this setup and a few self watering containers we have here in the spring - summer season.

That's great, I can't wait to see the results. Looking forward to reading more about the ranch.

When will you post something on micro-spray systems? I am really interested and can't wait for a demo.

We're updating the system this week, and taking pictures as we go. Look for a post next week or the week after.

your info is so helpful. thank you for you effort. cant hardly wait to start my home ranch. I'm in Palm Beach Florida, would love to hear allabout your adventure - I'm so happy someone is trying to help those less fortunate. Thank you Thank you Thank you


Looking forward to seeing the results of the container and food forestry experiments--so far those look like some happy vegetables.

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