Deb, for whatever reason, no longer wanted her cress seeds (lepidium sativum) so she passed them on to me. (I LOVE that all my friends know I am happy to take any unwanted garden anything off their hands.)
I have never tried growing cress and had no idea how. The instructions on the package puzzled me slightly so I confirmed their suggestions with some judicious web browsing. Basically there are 2 options:
1) Sprinkle seeds on wet paper towels, cover with a plate to keep dark and moist, spray with water daily to keep moist, watch grow and eat in about a week. (Wow – that easy?)
2) Sprinkle seeds on moist soil, cover with a thin layer of soil, spray with water daily to keep moist, watch grow and eat in about a week. (Wow – that easy?)
Apparently they can be eaten in 7-10 days, or you can let them keep growing up to a few inches tall. Of course you can only let them keep growing if you’ve opted for option 2 and they have soil to grow in.
Hating unnecessary decisions, I decided to try both techniques. Below on the left is the trial with seeds on paper towels which stayed in the kitchen. On the right is the outside batch just before I covered it with soil.
Day 0: Just seeds
Day 1: Germination
When I woke up I checked the indoor seeds, ready to spray them and came across problem #1. I had covered the seeds with paper towel (one of the methods I’d read about) and the upper towel was stuck to the seeds and lower towel. I removed that and replaced it with a plate. I sprayed the paper towel (which was bone dry – apparently it should be sprayed at least twice a day) and covered the plate with another plate. I went outside and sprayed the soil on the cress there.
Here is the indoor cress after about 26 hours. It’s on its way. No idea about the outside cress – it’s buried.
Day 2: Everything’s sprouting (inside, nothing visible outside yet)
Day 3: Some green tips. Inside there are green tips, outside some sprouts have reached the air (so have a few weeds).
On the evening of day 2 I replaced the solid plate on the inside seeds with a clear glass bowl allowing them to grow taller and to photosynthesise. It looks like they approve.
Day 4: Leaves inside and outside. Inside is much the same, only taller. Outside is showing real progress.
Day 5: Excitement Waning. Yes, progress continues but the thrill of watching something sprout and produce leaves is much more intense than the inspection of leaf size and sprout height.
First inside, an aerial view and a side on. Height is okay but what’s up with the leaves? I think I over watered (sprayed) and weighed the leaves down. I backed off the water a touch mid-day 4. I also removed the glass bowl – retaining moisture is no longer a problem.
Then outside, an aerial view and a close-up. Leaf progress looks a lot better here than inside even though it took longer to reach the air. Interesting…
Day 6: Not worth a photo
Seriously, nothing new happened. I shouldn’t have been that disappointed because it’s not normal to actually watch plants grow. But the first couple of days of cress-watching set a standard that I was hoping the blasted things could keep. Alas, it was not to be.
Day 7: Oops, they really do need water
Because of my decision on Day 5 that too much water was weighing down the leaves inside, I reduced the amount of water I put on the sprouts. Overnight the paper dried out and the poor little guys limped over. I sprayed and they mainly recovered (whew, that was a close one). But they still are nothing compared to the outside cress, the leaves just aren’t leafing.
Day 7 is supposed to be the earliest harvest day. These plants don’t look appetising – and they certainly don’t look like they’d add anything to a sandwich, salad or stir fry.
Day 8: Okay, they must be ready
They really aren’t changing any more. On day 8 and day 9 everything is pretty much the same as day 7 so I guess this leaf is all the leaf I’ll ever get. We tasted them on day 8. On day 9 I reinstated the glass cover for the inside sprouts (they became a bother to keep moist).
Day 10: Harvest time
We harvested the entire inside crop on day 10 and threw it in a salad of tomatoes and goat feta. They are tasty. A bit peppery, sort of like rocket, but zero bitterness and they are tender and succulent.
I’m leaving the outside crop to see what happens and how long it takes for anything to change.
Below the photos show the inside cress on day 10, the cut cress, the remains after harvest and the yummy salad.
Two weeks: Taller, but otherwise exactly the same
Day 24: Final Harvest – the cress is still hanging in there with no signs of dying
After 3 weeks of watching the outside crop grow then enter a fully developed state, I decided the wait was over. It was clear the cress could have held out for a lot longer (weeks or months, I just don’t know) but I wanted to eat it. So I cut it all down and over 2 days we had the cress in a potato salad then a Waldorf salad. Both salads really benefited from the peppery crispness.
When all is said and done
Cress is easy to grow, takes very little space and is super simple to care for (inside plants are less easy as you have to be around to spray a couple of times a day).
Inside plants deliver the goods more quickly, but their leaves never grew to a size to rival the outside plants. Unless I have a very short term requirement, I’ll only grow these things in soil in the future.
The cress produced nothing terribly substantial, yet tasty all the same. Sprouts may not be a meal but they are a yummy and healthy accent to a salad or sandwich. I’d certainly grow them again (and will use up the seeds I have). I may even start keeping some in a pot in my seedling tray or on the kitchen bench. I’ll also remember them for when I’m planning a meal for friends. All I need is one week’s notice to throw a paper towel on a plate and I’ll have a nice garnish for a salad.