The 100-Foot Salad

(Or: “Eats Shoots, Blooms, Weeds, and Leaves.”)

You’ve heard of the 100-foot diet? Proponents strive to eat food grown or produced as close to home as possible. Much of the year, that is my goal. And the farmers of central Indiana offer much of what I need, from meat to eggs to dairy to fruits and veggies. There’s even a local oil option now, and certain grains and beans can be sourced locally as well.

This time of year though, I’m enjoying my 100-foot salads.

Every spring I plant salad greens in my Garden Tower and an old salvaged sink. My tradition is to go to the winter farmers market and buy starts from a farmer of my acquaintance, Laura Karr. I wrote about her farm, KG Acres, for this Farm Indiana piece. She was also the source of my perennial sorrel plants, which give a lovely lemony flavor to salads in early spring.

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OK, so the lettuce itself did not originate within 100 feet of my kitchen, but once a plant is in the garden, I claim it.

Even before the lettuce and spinach are ready to eat, I feast on chickweed that grows in my yard. Well, “feast” might be an overstatement: I graze. This succulent little salad green got its own shout-out in a Hoosier Locavore blog post, as the foraged food of the month. In February. Back then I was snitching chickweed from a farmer acquaintance’s fields, but now I have my own little clump growing next to a raised bed, and I pinch off the tips for every salad I make. Yum.

I also have chives (and chive blossoms!) that come back year after year just outside my back door. (The potted chives has developed a modest wintertime Facebook following of sorts, because I post photos of her on snowy days as Lady Chives of the Pillbox Hat, just to be silly.)

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“Lady Chives” in February, with an undignified mullet peeking out from her pillbox hat.

My catnip reseeded itself all over the yard last fall, as did arugula, as did lamb’s quarters. (Don’t think me weird, but I eat catnip leaves in salads. It’s a bit cheesy tasting. And suits my feline nature.) The young lamb’s quarters add pink interest to my salad plate, but I’ll let several of them grow tall  so I can eat them as cooked greens later in the summer. And who doesn’t love the peppery taste of arugula, especially if it’s free?

Pea shoots are another thing showing up my garden, and I think they reseeded themselves from last year’s Austrian winter peas. I am a lazy gardener, but sometimes that pays.

The coolest part of my 100-foot salad, though, lies across the street in a greenspace by the creek.


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Trout lily, in a photo snapped before my “salad bowl” across the street was mowed by an enterprising neighbor. Dandelion says “Hey, I’m here too!”

I can pick trout lily, violet flowers, and redbud blooms while they last. Maybe the fleeting nature of these delicacies gives them their aura of specialness. The redbuds are already on the wane, and last weekend a neighbor mowed the greenspace, so my trout lily salads are done for.

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Redbud blooms, the pinkest salad topper ever.

I also love to pick baby leaves off of a basswood (linden) tree over there. There’s something so novel about eating tree leaves in a dinner salad. They’re heartshaped, succulent (if picked small), and delicious.

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Seriously yummy basswood leaves. Later in the summer (actually very soon) it will be hard to find a small leaf this shiny and new on the low branches of “my” tree.

For a while I had sweet Jerusalem artichokes that I dug up in early spring and sliced like water chestnuts, but they’re gone now. But there’s plenty of other wild goodness in my yard and surrounding area. Small dandelion leaves (bitter!) and wood sorrel (tangy!) round out my salad bowl.

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I love to go out foraging with my little colander.

Eating a salad like this nourishes me twice, kind of like Thoreau’s wood chopping warmed him twice. It’s a delicious outing, carrying my colander out into the world to pick nature’s tenderest.

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I give you the 100-foot salad.

I Heart My Garden Tower

Faithful readers of this blog will remember last year’s midseason efforts with a new gardening technology. Due to some missteps and a late start, I had pretty low yields. But this spring the Garden Tower Project, offering a vertical garden design with worm composting right in the tower, is my best friend.

I’m following the instructions this time and fertilizing with organic fish emulsion till my worms get going, and I can already tell a big difference.

I sowed radish and beet seeds in the top of the Tower over a month ago, and it was so exciting when they sprouted.

I sowed radish and beet seeds in the top of the Tower over a month ago, and it was so exciting when they sprouted.

In late March I bought starts from two of my favorite farmers at the winter farmers market, Stout’s Melody Acres and KG Acres.

Sweet little chard seedling in one of the pockets.

Sweet little chard seedling in one of the pockets.

This year I’m not asking each pocket to hold more than one plant (last year I was loath to thin my babies, resulting in spindly, sad specimens).

Beautiful lettuce (before I thinned).

Beautiful lettuce (actually two plants, before I thinned).

Soon I was able to eat my thinnings. Just last week, I harvested a bumper crop of radishes.

And the radishes are still coming!

And the radishes are still coming!

This week I’ve made my salads solely from my own garden (with a few foraged weeds for good measure), and I’ve begun snipping kale leaves to use in green smoothies.


More radishes on the way. And here come the beets! I will probably slip a tomato or pepper plant in here before too long.

Here’s what my Garden Tower looked like before I started majorly harvesting a few days ago.

Still room for a cucumber or zucchini seeding on the bottom row. (Yes I do love my greens!)

Still room for a cucumber or zucchini seeding on the bottom row, where that one pea sprout is lagging behind.

And another view.

Yes I do love my greens-- of all kinds!

Yes I do love my greens– of all kinds!

I learned more about the Garden Tower Project when I wrote a piece on it for the May issue of Farm Indiana. I was impressed with the vision of the project’s three partners. For example, at some point in the future they hope to switch from a petroleum-based plastic to plant-based.

According to partner Joel Grant, the type of polyethylene used in the Tower is simple to produce from plant-based sources. “You can produce polyethylene nearly as easily as biodiesel,” the environmental scientist says. “It takes more processing but…in some countries people solely manufacture it out of plant products.”

For more on the Garden Tower Project, visit their webpage or see my story in Farm Indiana (navigate to page 24).

Now I’m off to saute up some chard and radish greens for dinner!

Building Resilience One Vertical Garden at a Time

At FoodCon I met two of the people behind the innovative Bloomington-based Garden Tower Project. Check out their garden-in-a-barrel design with built-in worm composting. Up to 50 plants can be planted in this unique vertical garden.

Garden Tower on Planting Day

Garden Tower on Planting Day

The center tube is perforated down the entire length, allowing red wiggler worms to travel between the compost tube and the soil. Kitchen waste goes into the center tube and turns into compost and worm castings. Bonus: The protection of the soil in the barrel means the worms can survive through the winter.

How genius is that–worm composting right in your container garden?
Finished compost, with happy worms

Finished compost, with happy worms

From the website:

“In an era of rapidly rising food prices and industrial farming practices that strip our food of nutrients essential for good health, we believe the Garden Tower is one small step in empowering people towards their own food security.”
The company hopes to nurture a community of growers. They’ll soon launch as a space for networking and collaboration among those with an interest in the Garden Tower Project’s mission. The goal is expanding food self-sufficiency, promoting homegrown vegetables and herbs that are:
  • organic
  • non-GMO
  • low-input
  • ecologically sustainable

Tom Tlusty tells me that the Garden Tower’s unique design capitalizes on “evaporative cooling and a large thermal mass”–making it possible to plant in hot temperatures normally prohibitive in a traditional garden plot.

So… it’s not too late to start gardening this season!

Top view of the Garden Tower.

Top view of the Garden Tower.

I’m so excited about this design that I ordered my own Garden Tower, and I’m picking it up from the Good Earth later today. I’m psyched to sow some crops I didn’t have room for, like beans and carrots. I’ll also scour local garden centers for leftover seedlings (probably quite sad and stressed by now, but maybe a little TLC would bring them along).

It’s nearly time to start fall crops, like kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach. That’s something I always intend to do and never seem to manage in the thick of late summer. But this is the year, with my sweet new protected microclimate as incentive.

Plus I’ll finally have livestock on my homestead, if only in the form of worms. I’m in heaven!

Time to harvest from the Garden Tower

Time to harvest from the Garden Tower

The only drawback I can see is the need for potting soil to ensure that the growing medium is not compacted in the barrel. I hate buying bagged soil for so many reasons. I’ve seen recipes for homemade potting soil. But being eager to jump in, I probably will break down and purchase. (If you’ve found a good peat-free variety available on the market, please leave it in the comments.)

The inventors believe their design will allow people of all abilities to garden in any clime. According to Garden Tower users in the arid Grand Canyon region, this model results in immense water savings. Tom says they used ten times less water with the Garden Tower than their traditional plot or raised bed.

Really can’t wait to dig in!

All photos courtesy of The Garden Tower Project.