Grow a Crate o’ Mache

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Fruit crates are just tall enough to accomodate leafy greens or herbs with shallow root systems. I decided to fill this one up with a crop of mache. Mache is the de rigour green of the uppercrust and a good choice if growing lettuce feels like a waste of time and space. The succulent leaves make a delicious salad (especially good with figs and blue cheese) but fetches a hefty sum at your typical Whole Foods.

Crate o' Mache

Little work is required to prep your crate for growing. The bottom of mine had large spaces between slats and required some kind of coverage to hold soil in. Alternatively, crates with solid bottoms will require drainage holes to let water out. I laid an average-sized plastic shopping bag inside the crate and cut a bunch of small holes with a pair of scissors to make drainage. The key here is making a vessel that will hold soil, but adding drainage back so your seedlings aren’t swimming during a heavy rainfall.

Crate o' Mache

Next, I filled up the crate with good quality container soil. A cheap container plus cheap soil, equals too much cheap! When it comes to container soil you get what you pay for. Your best bet is usually with the mid-ranged priced soils. Avoid the Miracle Grow stuff if you can. Fill your container to the top and tamp it in with your hands. You want to remove the air pockets and make a respectably flat surface. Don’t go crazy with it — a level is not required.


Once you’ve got your soil in place, cut around the edges with the scissors to remove the excess plastic bag. Pour a handful of seed into your hand and spread it thinly, and evenly across the soil surface. Don’t worry if you have too many seeds as you can remove excess plants later. Add another 1/4″ of soil on top of the seeds and water everything in well.

Leafy greens prefer cool weather and shadier spots. Plants will bolt in hot weather which means that they quickly go to seed and become bitter. How much sun is too much depends on your conditions and the time of year. Mine are currently placed in a sunny spot on my rooftop deck because the daytime temperatures are in the light sweater to spring jacket plus long sleeve shirt range. I will move it to a shady spot when the heat picks up. Water your container everyday. Soon you will see little tiny plants emerging. Here are what mine looked like today 15 days after sowing. Mache can take as much as 20 days to emerge from below the soil so don’t give up if yours take their sweet time. Be patient!

Crate o' Mache

Other suggestions for your crate:

  • Rouge d’hiver lettuce
  • Mizuna
  • Arugula
  • Red orach
  • Kale (grown as baby kale only)
  • Purslane
  • Spinach
  • Thyme – lemon, lavender, orange, silver…
  • Oregano
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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21 thoughts on “Grow a Crate o’ Mache

  1. i saw mache once in the grocery store, but never again, then started hearing so much about it…is it even THAT good? what does it taste like?

  2. I only marginally liked it until I had the most delicious salad at a restaurant in NYC. I discovered that the key is to salt it. I really like it now. I like the texture and how you pick the whole thing… so you eat tiny rosettes.

    One additional thought about growing it would be that you should trya nd grow multiple crops by staggering the sowings. This isn’t a cut and come again green so you’ll want to keep the harvest coming.

  3. What a great idea to plant in an orange crate lined with a plastic bag. I was always afraid to plant in wood since someone once told me wood leeches out (it it?) nitrogen from soil. Anyway the plastic takes care of that problem. Great idea.

  4. Nice idea, I agree. Gonna start keeping my eyes out for those kind of crates– which I love using as boxes for spices and other things, too… I see in the last picture a bit of a plastic container– like a rasberry pint mesh box– what’s that for?

  5. Amanda: I put that there because some workers who were painting the halls of our building kept butting out their smokes in the planter. But I often place those over seedlings to keep squirrels from digging.

  6. Oh boy I opened up a can of worms but am not sure how to answer this without writing a novel. So in a nutshell, Miracle Gro has chemical fertilizers in it, and if you’re not into that then you’ll want to stay away from it.

    There are a few good posts in here that do a better job in breaking down where I’m coming from.

  7. My seeds & starts indoors looks like a deli crashed into a salvage yard. Boxes, crates, empty yogurt containers, the styro sorts of little boxes mushrooms come in……name it, I’ve planted something in it. I was determined not to spend money on parts of my garden that really didn’t matter. Who else sees this stage of my garden but me??

  8. Gayla,
    that’s a completely reasonable answer and not a can of worms at all! i’m just a total novice and only now discovering that there are more types of potting soil than the stuff they sell at Lowe’s (usually miracle gro). i just wasn’t sure if it was because it was evil or if it killed specific types of edible greens or something. thanks!

  9. that looks great! i have a wine crate i was going to grow my thai basil and sweet basil in. do you think that will work?

  10. I live in hawaii on a pile of lava. I found that I can grow lettuce in kitty litter pans with holes poked in the bottom. I grow cut and come again lettuce and it keeps growing for a long time!

  11. I also live in Hawaii, and I’m thinking about planting in a wine crate… Do I need to treat the wood at all? I can’t seem to find any information on that. I really wanted to plant tomatoes, but do you think a wine crate is too shallow? Mine is about 14″ deep. Ideally I wanted to plant basil and tomatoes… but if it’s too shallow I might just go with an herb garden. This is my first attempt at growing anything, so any suggestions are more than welcome! Thanks in advance! =)

  12. Hi Malia,

    I don’t recommend treating the wood for a couple of reasons. It’s only a cheap crate… and will likely break down eventually based on the quality. The one in this post is the cheapest quality crate I have ever used but is still looking good a full growing season later. I have good quality, wooden wine crates that I have been using for YEARS that are still going strong. And I like the way they look as they age and gain that patina.

    But most importantly anything you add to the wood is going to come back out into the soil and eventually into the food you are growing.

    A wine crate is much too shallow for tomatoes. Most tomatoes — barring some really small varieties made to grow in baskets and small containers — should be grown in very large containers. You could grow a small variety like Sunrise III in that depth. Basil will not be a problem. You’ll have more success with just herbs.

  13. I ate Mache in Paris every day of my vacation, and even with all of the yummy croissants, I still lost weight! MMM! Bought some seed, and plan to follow your advice with the crates (clementine season = many crates!). I live in the North East US, do you think I can grow it inside in full sun during the winter? My seed has no growing directions for this climate… I gather the heat and full sun of summer are harmful, but how about indoors?

  14. Paula: I have never tried so am wary of guessing one way or another since some plants can be finicky about indoor growing for all sorts of reasons (dry baseboard heating, cold windows and drafts, too little light…). My growing conditions are the same as yours. I would suggest waiting until early spring when the conditions are better but doing a small test run indoors during the winter certainly can’t hurt. I would try it in a sunny window since the winter sun tends to lack the punch of the summer and most days are grey-er regardless.

  15. I’ve been growing a garden on the roof of my building for a few years and have gotten great results, especially with flowers, by planting in those wooden wine crates. Last summer, I had around 40 with great results. I do not line the boxes, and they only last a season or two, but alot of the more upscale wine boutiques receive large quantities of these wine boxes and it is an unlimited free supply.They also look great, almost upscale…(I like to think so). Port crates tend to be a little deeper and all my herbs did fabulous in them last summer. While I couldn’t manage tomatoes (didn’t try), I actually got 5′ sunflowers in the port crates, and my Yarrow was at least 2 1/2 feet, and returned after a harsh winter for an even better second year, as did quite a few of my perrenials.
    p.s. I live in Calgary, very short, sunny, dry summer and an impossibly long, cold winter. The crates do warp quite easily in the humidity.

  16. Mache is a very delicious green! My profession is a chef and I came across it at my last job and it is now, hands down my favorite green to use in salads. It’s not very hearty, and can be quite delicate which lends its self well to a lot of dishes. I just started to grow some myself, you won’t be disappointed!

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