Garden cress (Lepidium sativum)
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is very easy to grow and can be harvested as early as two weeks after sowing. The annual cultivated plant belongs to the crucifer family (Brassicaceae) and is originally from the Near East. Garden cress is an undemanding plant that grows between 30 and 50 centimetres high. It grows from a spindle-shaped root. The stems are glabrous, bluish-green and branched at the top. They have pinnate, light green, alternate leaves. The tiny white flowers appear from June to August. The seedlings contain a lot of vitamin C, carotene and mustard oil glycosides, which are responsible for the spicy-hot taste. Garden cress is a popular kitchen spice that can be easily cut on bread, in salads, soups and in curd cheese. It is also an ingredient in Frankfurt’s green sauce.
Besides outdoor sowing, garden cress can also be grown in the greenhouse and as sprouts in special glasses on the windowsill.
Location and soil
The undemanding cress thrives well on humus-rich, loose and moist soils in sunny to semi-shady locations.
Sowing and planting
Cress germinates within two days at a soil temperature of six degrees Celsius and grows very quickly at 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. It can be cultivated both in the greenhouse and on the windowsill. In the open field from March onwards, you can sow the cress either broadly or in rows of ten centimetres apart. If you want to harvest continuously, sow in several subsequent sowings until the end of September. For early sowing, choose a sunny place with moist soil, from May onwards it is better to sow bullet-proof varieties such as ‘Olympus’ in partial shade. Since cress is a light germinator, you should sow the seeds relatively flat and only cover them lightly with soil or thinly with sieved compost or sand. This prevents the seeds from being washed away during watering, they dry out less quickly and the seedlings free themselves from the hard seed coat when the top layer is pierced. It is also possible to sow in pots, egg cartons or other small cultivation trays with slightly sandy herbal soil on the window sill. Here too, regular follow-up sowing is a good idea. In winter the crop can also be grown well in a greenhouse.
You can also grow cress sprouts completely without soil: The seeds germinate particularly evenly if you water the fawn brown seeds for several hours before sowing. This also prevents seed shells from sticking to the cotyledons: Put one to two tablespoons of cress seeds in a glass and add so much cold water that they are covered about two fingers high. Leave the glass in a cool, light place for a few hours until a transparent layer of mucus has formed around each grain. The swollen seeds are then placed in a bowl lined with kitchen or filter paper or on the special “cress hedgehog” as a thin layer and moistened with a spray bottle at least twice a day.
The uncomplicated garden cress does not require any special care or fertilisation apart from regular watering.
Harvesting and storage
If you have sown the cress in shells, you can harvest the seedlings eight to ten days later. In any case, it is important to cut the seedlings before flowering, otherwise they lose their aromatic substances. If sown in a bed, it takes about two to three weeks for the cress to grow hand-high. You should cut the pinnate leaves with a sharp knife or scissors.
Cress tastes particularly good as a topping for bread, in salads, in curd cheese, with egg dishes and in Frankfurt’s Green Sauce. It should be eaten quickly, as the leaves wither quickly.
Mixed cultivation and crop rotation
Radishes are suitable neighbours, although no special mixed cultivation is necessary due to the short cultivation period of the cress. However, you should not sow cress in beds in which cruciferous plants such as rocket, radishes or cabbages have already been planted.
There are varieties with small leaves (such as the ‘Simple’), varieties with curled leaves (Lepidium sativum var. crispum), varieties with wide leaves (Lepidium sativum var. latifolium, for example the ‘Large-leaved’ variety) and the golden yellow ‘English’ cress.
Diseases and pests
Earth fleas can lead to total loss of young cress seedlings. If the small beetles are common in your garden, it is better to grow cress in planters on the balcony or under vegetable protection nets with a mesh size of 0.8 millimetres.