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What are Leafy Greens?
Leafy greens are plant leaves that we consider a vegetable, such as kale, spinach, or cabbage. They are packed with vitamins (especially vitamin K), minerals, and fiber, while low in calories and fat. Some may even lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Leafy greens are usually boiled, stir-fried, steamed, or otherwise cooked. They can also be eaten raw in a salad or smoothie for example. While raw greens tend to be higher in some vitamins, cooked greens can be higher in other nutrients. It’s recommended to eat a mixture of both raw and cooked leafy greens to get the most nutritional value out of them.
List of Leafy Greens
- Arugula (rocket)
- Beet greens
- Bok Choy (chinese cabbage)
- Collard greens
- Iceberg lettuce
- Leaf Amaranth
- Malabar spinach
- Mustard greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Swiss Chard
- Turnip greens
What do you need?
Get good or high quality seeds to ensure a higher germination rate and overall healthier seeds.
You can grow leafy greens in a corner of your apartment, a spare room, your basement, or a garden shed. The best thing about growing in your own home is that the temperature is a constant 16-26 °C (60-80 °F) and humidity levels are around 40-60%, creating an ideal environment for growing plants all year round. Once you know how many leafy greens you and your family consume per week, you can start growing on a schedule; once the previous harvest is eaten, another has grown.
Grow Rack or Shelf
Grow your leafy greens in trays or individual pots on a shelf or grow rack. This will increase your vertical space, while saving on horizontal space.
Trays or pots
Depending on the type of leafy green you want to grow, get trays that are deep and wide enough for your plants. For larger leafy greens you may want to go with pots for individual plants. Sanitize your trays and pots after and before every use.
Go for high-quality LED grow lights as your main lights source. LED grow lights provide your plants with the light spectrum they need. They also give off less heat than other types of grow lights, so they can be placed closer to the plant, providing a better light intensity while not burning your plants! Check out our blog on different types of grow lights.
LEDs are more energy efficient than other lights, resulting in a lower energy bill compared to using HPS, CMH, or other types of lights. LEDs have a long lifespan (around 5 years!) and require little to no maintenance. They come in slim formats and are lightweight, making them easy to be hung on a grow rack or shelf. These vegetable grow lights can be chained together and connected to a timer or controller, to switch the lights on and off at the same time.
Depending on the type of leafy greens you are growing you’ll need to set a specific day and night cycle. Plants need a specific amount of light hours per day for photosynthesis or growth, but they also need to be in the darkness for rest.
Plants should have enough nutrients and in the proper ratio for the type of greens you are growing. Nutrients come in powder or liquid form, in organic and synthetic versions. Try out different nutrients (and combinations) to see which work best for your plants.
Growing your own greens at home will use 90% less water than commercial farmers. You can use tap water, or collect rainwater. However, test the PH value of your water and refrain from using high chlorine water, highly softened water, or when the PH levels are out of the acceptable range.
General Leafy Greens Growing Phase
Add soil or another grow medium to your tray or pot and make it moist. Spread the seeds over the soil, but keep some space between them. Depending on the type of leafy green you are growing, place the seeds further or closer apart. You’ll want good air circulation between the plants once they’ve grown and give roots space to spread. Add another thin layer of soil and spray some water until the soil feels moist. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet.
Most leafy greens prefer cool temperature, around 10 to 24 °C (10-75°F), and a water PH level around 6.0 (always check these values before growing!).
Once you see the first set of leaves appear, you may want to add nutrients to the water, following the recommendations of your specific nutrients.
Check your plants daily. They should look green and robust and the soil should be moist, but not too wet. If you see your plants turn yellow, start to hang, or other signs of distress, they may be light-starved or nutrient-starved. Check your plants for signs and act accordingly.
If you need information on a specific leafy green, please check out our comprehensive leafy greens cheat sheet below:
If you are using the leafy greens for yourself and your family, you could harvest what you need and leave the rest of the plant alone. This will promote new growth and extends the time the plants get to live – thus giving you more yield. Wait until your leafy greens have matured and gently pull off about 40-60% of the older, outer leaves. This way the plant keeps enough leaves to photosynthesize and will continue to grow. Furthermore, you do not have to store or refrigerate your harvest, your plants won’t spoil, and pruning your plants this way actually encourages rapid new growth, giving you more bang for your buck.
Of course, if you plan on selling or giving away your crops, you should harvest the whole plant (including the roots and stem) so it can be kept longer.
Most leafy greens can be regrown if you cut or pull the leaves off 2.-5cm above the base of the plant. Leaving the roots and a part of the stem in the soil or putting it in a bowl of water (some leafy greens may only regrow in water, like lettuce). Give or refresh the water every 1-2 days. Some leafy greens may give only 1 or 2 new harvests before turning bitter, while others can be harvested more times. If and how you can regrow depends on the leafy green you are growing.
Pests & Diseases
There are some common (and some less common) pests and diseases that may affect your leafy greens.These include pests such as Aphids and Whiteflies, both tiny insects that will suck the nutrient-rich liquid out of your plants, weakening your plants. These insects produce a sticky substance known as honeydew, which in turn can cause fungal disease.
Mold and fungi infections such as Powdery Mildew and Botrytis thrive in an environment that lacks proper drainage, air circulation, and lightning. They can quickly overtake an entire grow area and steal the nutrients from your leafy greens, damaging your plants and resulting in a loss of harvest. Mold grows above the soil, directly on the plants as a spider-web like substance. It can also appear on the leaves as dark colored spots. It has an unpleasant smell and is slimy to the touch.
Pests & Diseases Prevention
- Proper air circulation can help prevents pests and diseases. Use fans or other methods of air circulation within your grow area.
- Keep your humidity levels between 40-60%. Add a dehumidifier to your grow area to help regulate humidity levels if necessary or mist water with a spray bottle.
- Make sure your trays and container have holes for drainage, this will keep your soil healthy.
- Do not keep your leafy greens too close to each other. They need space to breathe.
- Always disinfect your equipment after every use. Use only clean scissors or knives.
- Use untreated, high-quality seeds only.
- Set up proper lighting conditions. Mold prefers dark areas, 6 to 10 hours of light daily may prevent the growth of mold.