It’s still like the dead of winter in Wisconsin. For gardeners like me this is a tough time of year. Frozen flowerbeds. Icy garden paths. The only green in sight is the dried-up Christmas tree tossed on top of the compost pile.  Even the lush photos in the seed catalogues are not enough to brighten my mood. Supermarket produce is blah, tasteless. Last year’s harvest stored in our freezer is better, but still not as good as cutting veggies right before dinner. As I do every year, I’m beginning to wonder if I will make it until spring.

Our first harvest of romaine from the growing wall

Lettuces at different levels of maturity provide a steady harvest

Innovation to the rescue! We built a Growing Wall for leafy greens in our basement! Now I can harvest lettuce and spinach daily for salads. We started the Growing Wall because we needed plants to test a new formula to fight against downy mildew in spinach. Fortunately, we get to eat the test plants! Once the plant trials are complete, I’ll let you know how well the new formula worked.

In the meantime, why not plant a Growing Wall at your house? It was so easy! Plus, it makes a lovely screen to hide the sump pump in our basement. I think this will work in almost any space you want to grow a splash of live green plants any time of year.

To make the Growing Wall we used a 48-inch chrome wire adjustable shelf we got at Home Depot. We already had some shop lights in the basement and put one warm and one cool fluorescent tube in each fixture to get full spectrum light. The lights are attached with hooks to the bottom of each shelf. Adjust the shelves based on the height of your plants, so that the lights are between 4 and 6 inches from the plants. The lights are set on a timer to allow 12 hours of light on, 12 hours off.

To get started, Mike used seedlings purchased from Port Fish, an aquaponic fish and lettuce operation in Port Washington. We also started some seeds to rotate into the wall when they are big enough to transplant. We planted the purchased seedlings in tiny clay pots and set them in trays. Watering is easy by keeping an inch or so of water in the trays.

Harvest is a simple snip with scissors, very gently. Leave some of the leaves so the plant will re-grow easily. We hope for multiple cuttings per plant, just like lettuce planted in our garden.

If you plant a Growing Wall, please write and let me know how it goes. Hopefully this will keep us all from going insane before the garden soil is ready to dig!