If it’s the middle of winter and there’s nothing much going on in the vegetable garden, or you want some easy and ultra-fresh salad greens, or a rainy day project to help keep the kids occupied, then try growing mustard and cress!
- To begin with, you’ll need to buy some seeds – for garden cress seeds and/or mustard. Both plants have quite a lot of flavour, with mustard being hotter than cress. If you want something a bit milder, look for oilseed rape (canola) seeds – they can be grown the same way. Suttons have a good range of both mustard seeds and cress seeds to choose from.
- Next find a tray. You need a plastic tray to sow your seeds in, without drainage holes. You can recycle one that was used as food packaging, as long as it is clean.
- Then find some tissue. Mustard and cress are usually grown on damp tissue (such as kitchen paper) rather than compost. You can use cotton wool, too.
- Put a layer of tissue in the bottom of the plastic tray, and make it damp. You can dribble water in, or use a plant mister, but you don’t want too much water – no puddles.
- Sow your seeds by sprinkling them onto the surface of the tissue. You can crowd them in – they’re not going to grow big enough to need any space, and you want plenty to harvest. If you want to grow mustard and cress to harvest them at the same time, then you need to sow the mustard 3-4 days ahead, because mustard seedlings grow faster.
- Check back in a few hours. If you sow your seeds in the morning then they may have started to germinate by bedtime – small white roots will be visible. By the next morning, some of the seeds will be growing tiny shoots as well.
- Keep an eye on the water levels. If the tissue dries out then your seedlings will die. Check in the morning and the evening, and add more water if necessary.
- Cress seedlings sometimes go mouldy before they’re ready to harvest. If they do, throw them on the compost heap and start again. Keep things nice and clean and if it’s winter, then try growing them in a warmer room.
- In about a week your seedlings will be an inch and a half tall and ready for harvesting.
- Harvest your cress when you want to use it, by snipping the stems. It doesn’t keep long once it has been cut.
Mustard and cress are great in sandwiches and salads, or as a garnish. If you’re growing them with kids, then try using some unusual containers. If you wash out empty eggshells, you can draw faces on the front and grow ‘egglings’ with cress hair!
This is one of a series of articles on basic gardening that I have put together for those of you who are just starting out. There are more articles on gardening with children, and you may also enjoy Growing Vegetables is Fun!, my magbook aimed at getting kids growing, which is available on Kindle. There’s also an episode of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show podcast on growing cress.