My girlfriend and my quest for continuous, fresh greens evolved in the summer of 2015 from our CSA garden and into our home, where we built a stand, bought a grow light and began growing arugula from seed.
Arugula, if you’re not familiar, is a jagged-edged, leafy green with thin stems, and is known for being one of my favorite and what I believe is one of the best vegetables for container gardening. I jest, but it’s true. There’s nothing like walking over, snapping off a fresh stem of arugula and enjoying a snack.
Okay, there are a lot of things better than that, but I was trying to set the mood, so forgive me.
Let me tell you how I started. Again, my aim for growing arugula was to maintain a steady source of leaves for our dinners and snacks around the house. Growing arugula is better than growing lettuce in containers because of flavor. While butter lettuce can add a crisp, refreshing bite to a sandwich, arugula adds more dimension, half-herb, half-green. We enjoy it with spinach in a blend for wraps and salads, and find it more enjoyable and useful than growing lettuce. In containers, I felt like we could control the density a little more and defend them from bugs, which had partially destroyed our efforts in the CSA garden.
Planting lettuce seeds of any sort requires a microscopic eye, and arugula is no different. The seeds are tiny, and I spaced two per hole about a ¼-inch deep and 4 inches apart in my Garland Grow Light Garden. The Garden works on a water osmosis system, with fabric that drinks water from a water well and transports it into boxes, which are filled with your planting soil and seeds. It also allows you to grow the plants more densely. The lights are energy-efficient, too, and run with less energy usage than a normal light bulb.
If you’re planting and growing arugula in a less controlled area, plant at least 6 inches apart to give the leaves a chance to really spread out. In my case, I knew light would reach all parts of the leaves, no matter how dense, and I would be harvesting frequently enough when they were fully grown to achieve a lower density plant, as well. I programmed my light to turn on at 5 a.m. and turn off at 8 p.m., which gave it 15 hours of sunlight per day.
I did fertilize lightly with a dry organic starter, which went in the bottom of each hole, which I made with a thumbprint in medium-dense and nutrient-rich soil. Within three days, dozens of little sprouts broke the surface, and within seven, it looked like a little rainforest. At first when growing arugula from seed, when the plants are about 1-inch tall, you will need to select the healthiest and remove the rest. For fun, I kept my arugula sprouts in water and used them, just in case one of the early growers dies. Turns out, two of them did, so I used the spares and planted them back in the soil, and voilà, new growth, and we’re back on schedule.
I keep the arugula well watered, and I have yet to reapply any fertilizer since the initial dose. I have had the latest batch of arugula plants growing in my office for about 30 days now, and they are about 3 to 4 inches tall. The advantage of growing arugula from seed in my office as opposed to the garden, I’m finding, is that I can also go on vacation, fill the water tank, set the light remote, and not worry about a thing.