Thursday, January 31, 2019

Indoor Gardening Part Deux: Microgreens

Red Leaf Mizuna Microgreens provide a splash of color and a wallop of flavor.
The weather outside is frightful...

We've had ice and snow and now bitter cold. Yet we're warm and cozy by the fire, looking over our garden full of lovely vegetables. Let's see, we have cabbage -- both green and red, brussels sprouts and broccoli, leeks and endive, red-leaved radishes, Asian greens, peas, red amaranth greens, and...

Wait a minute! All of that in my house?

Why yes. Tiny, mini, teeny, vegetables -- Microgreens!

You, too, can have an amazing variety of vegetables on just one shelf in your house, by growing microgreens.

What, you may ask, are microgreens?

You've all heard how wonderful sprouts are. Maybe many of you have even done some sprouting, taking certain seeds -- beans or broccoli, perhaps -- wetting them and waiting for them to sprout. Then you just sprinkle them over your food. Well, microgreens are the next step after sprouts, harvested as the second set of leaves -- the first "true" leaves -- appear. Unlike sprouts, microgreens are grown in soil and you eat only stems and leaves, not the roots.

We started eating microgreens this past summer because my husband wanted to increase the diversity of foods in his diet without eating a ton of food. Microgreens have become common at farmers markets because pretty much anyone can grow them. You don't need a bunch of land -- or any land. Just a shelf and lights.

Batavian Endive Microgreens
Not only can you increase the diversity of vegetables in your diet by adding microgreens, you can increase the nutrition and flavor of your food. One study showed microgreens to contain several times the nutrients of mature plants. Microgreens also add a nice punch of flavor to salads, or as garnishes on hot foods. Throw on a handful or two for a gourmet meal.

Buying microgreens on a regular basis, to feed our hunger for the tiny veggies, became a bit costly. So I spent a bunch of money on seeds and got started. Even though the price tag on my seed collection seems exorbitant, in the long run it won't cost as much as it would to buy them as microgreens. Plus, some of the seeds are the same varieties I plant in the garden, so I've already got part of my spring and summer seed stash.

Don't use treated seed for microgreens. You don't want the fungicides, etc. on your micro veggies. Some seed companies sell seeds specifically for microgreens. However, pretty much any clean, untreated seed can be used. Sowing seeds as thickly as you do for microgreens, you can go through a packet of seeds in no time. Companies that sell seed specifically for microgreens -- such as True Leaf Market and Johnny's Selected Seeds, sell them in ounce packet sizes and larger. Which makes them cheaper than by the .5-gram packet. Some other companies sell seeds in ounce packets and larger, as well, although they are not specifically noted for microgreens. One of my favorites is Fedco Seeds. Just be sure you're not buying treated seed.

Growing them: Microgreens require only about an inch of soil. You can grow them hydroponically, but I'm not sure how practical that would be for the home micro-grower. I haven't studied up on that. But you can easily get a decent potting soil and begin.

I started my microgreen garden using those round drainage trays that you put under plant pots to keep them from wetting the floor. They're just deep enough to hold about an inch of soil. Later, in order to ramp up production, I purchased a number of black plastic growing flats. But use whatever you have that can hold an inch of soil.

Sow seed for microgreens much more thickly than you would for doing transplants -- one site recommended 8 to 10 seeds per square inch for large seeds (peas) and 12 or more for small seeds (radishes). Amaranth seed is even tinier and would require even more seeds per square inch. I don't measure, I just scatter seeds until it looks right. Wet your soil mix before putting it in the containers and spread it evenly. Then just press your seeds into the soil, spray with more water to get the seeds good and wet, and then cover with a plastic bag or whatever to keep them moist until they sprout.

Once they sprout, they'll need light. Set them near the brightest window you have (but take care to keep them out of cold drafts), or put them under fluorescent grow lights. Typically, they're ready to harvest (just snip them off with a scissors) about two weeks after planting. But some take longer and others are ready sooner. Watch for the second set of leaves to appear. Once most of the micro-veggies in your container put out true leaves, I recommend harvesting them all, and putting them in an airtight container in the fridge. Because, fungus gnats. I'll discuss those in a later post. However, you can just let them grow and harvest as you go, but the more mature the plants become, the more they use of those potent nutrients you're growing them for.

Some of our favorite micro-veggies are Rambo radish (a deep red), broccoli (lots of sulforaphane to support the body's detoxification system), cabbage (red and green), brussels sprouts, red-leaf mizuna, garnet mustard, snap or snow peas, red garnet amaranth, and black oil sunflower. We also like celery, leek, buckwheat, clover, and red shiso, and I'm planning to do some arugula. But you can make microgreens from cauliflower, chard, any radish or mustard, lettuce, kale, collards, onion, most herbs, and just a few flowers (nasturtiums yums). Check out the fairly extensive list at True Leaf Market. If you don't get overly excited by the possibilities -- why are you reading this, anyway?

Yes, I've discovered a couple of downsides to doing microgreens (more fungus gnats, for example), but they are fairly easy to avoid, if you know what to do. I'll cover these issues in future posts. So stay tuned. And eat your veggies -- micro and macro.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Indoor Gardening Part 1: Amaryllis

This year we've finally had real winter again. January began warmer than average, but now it's cold and even with February looming, it doesn't look like the cold will let up for more than a day or so. That means that this winter I'm more focused on indoor gardening. So I've decided to do a little series on growing plants indoors.

This will be a bit different than just writing about houseplants. Most of the plants in what I've come to call the "Green Room" are not simple houseplants (although some are). Many of them are food plants, seasonings, or plant medicines.

However, I'm going to start the series with a relatively common houseplant, Amaryllis. I wrote about how to care for amaryllis last year. But the amaryllis are in bloom right now and I can't resist posting photos of tropical blooms on a snowy January day.
This richly colored coleus was a cutting I took from a larger plant that lived
on my back porch last summer. It will become an outdoor plant again, come 
warmer weather.

A few months ago the Horticulture Newsletter from KSU recommended repotting amaryllis every year. When was the last time I repotted my amaryllis? Uh... well... I... I dunno. Have I ever repotted them? Probably, sometime, obviously, since they're not in the original pots. So in November I repotted them. They obviously were happy before, because each bulb had divided two or three times. I divided them, expanding my array of potted amaryllis. Now, instead of three pots of amaryllis I have five (some still with multiple bulbs). Plus I gave away a couple of bulbs. The newly repotted bulbs took longer to bloom than I anticipated, and one hasn't even put up a flower stalk. (It's a different variety, a little larger leaves and blooms, and has always bloomed later than the others.) But the blooms are just as lovely as ever.

This little phalaenopsis orchid was a gift I received one spring. It has blossomed
each year since with very little care. Although it's not blooming now.
You often can find amaryllis ready to grow and bloom (just add water!) during the holiday season. They're often given as gifts. While such gift plants often are treated as short-term plants, enjoyed while blooming, then forgotten and allowed to die, my larger amaryllis was a Christmas gift maybe 15 years ago. So with proper care, the gift can keep on giving.

Just follow the simple steps laid out in my previous blog about amaryllis and you can have amaryllis blooms for years and years. They also can be manipulated to bloom during the almost whenever you want -- winter, or spring and summer. Set them on your porch or even in the garden. A fellow Master Gardener has numerous amaryllis of various colors that she sets out in the garden (in their pots) each summer to add a tropical touch.

Many other plants can be grown in pots year-round. All of my potted plants spend the summer outdoors, some on the front porch where they recieve intense morning sun, others live on the screened in porch, where the elements are less intense. And I always have a couple outside our "back" door on the south. Some are year-round plants, but a few grow just until cold weather sets in.

And, as you'll see in this series, some garden plants also live indoors -- at least for a few weeks -- in winter time.

Tips for Houseplants: If you're a novice, pick hard to kill houseplants, even if they aren't as pretty as you'd like. Save the more finicky ones for later, once you've got some experience under your belt -- and have killed your share of houseplants. (It happens to all of us.)
-- Give them proper light. Most sold as houseplants (usually tropical species) survive on the minimal light usually found in a home. Some even like the dark corners. I had a pothos plant and one I think was an aglaonema, also called "Chinese evergreen" survive for years on just overhead fluorescent lights for eight to 10 hours a day only five days a week. It is recommended that you place plants along a wall opposite your windows, rather than directly in front of your windows. This doesn't fit everyone's floor plan, do what you can.
-- Water them enough, but not too much. Most houseplants die from overwatering rather than underwatering. With some exceptions, let at least the top two inches of soil dry out before you water again. Some plants, such as cacti and some succulents, can go completely dry. Water thoroughly, but try not to let a lot of water sit in the drainage tray for days and days and days.
-- Check routinely for pests and disease. Scale has been an issue on all my woody houseplants, plus on palms I've had. I will go into how to deal with scale and a few other pests in a future post in this series.
-- Provide proper temperature and humidity. Regular room temperature (something like 65-75 degrees and a little cooler at night) is sufficient for most house plants. Avoid placing them near doors and drafty windows where they will be hit by sudden cold drafts in the winter. Some plants can handle it better than others. Humidity -- good luck getting it just right in a heated or air-conditioned house. Some are more likely to be damaged by low humidity than others.
-- Give them good quality, well-draining soil and repot with fresh soil (you can mix old and new potting soil half and half) every few years. I even mix homemade compost in with my houseplant soil, and top dress them with compost each year, especially the larger plants. Most plants take regular potting soil, others require specialty soils.
-- Ask someone who's successfully grown your chosen houseplant for a while, and/or do some research to learn what conditions it needs to thrive, then provide them to the best of your ability. Sometime a plant that shouldn't live under the conditions will do so quite happily. The difference could how much love it receives. Occasionally tell your plants how beautiful they are. It couldn't hurt.

Thursday, January 17, 2019


In real life, the mass of branches piled with snow is eye-dazzling.
The leafless branch of a redbud tree becomes a work of art.
The world transforms into
A delightfully alien landscape.

Every leafless branch
Of every tree
A jagged black line
Highlighted by a broad stroke
Of brilliant white.

The cedar trees accept their burden,
Bowing in reverent prayer.
Snow-laden cedar branches
Bar my way down
Usual paths.

So I take another route,
Ducking under branches,
Going the back way,
Finding new breathtaking scenes.

From each change of perspective
A glorious new scene.
I hold my breath in anticipation,
Round a corner and realize
There is no end to the
Wonders of this Earth.

The world seemed to be in black and white, and every tiny spot of color stood out  like a flashing light, such as the glass gazing globe in the center of this photo. The snow fell overnight on Saturday (today is Thursday). Don't ask why I waited so long to post this. I don't have an answer. Much of this snow is gone now, although not entirely. We're slated to get more snow this weekend. The world is full of wonders. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year

As you continue your Journey
I hope you find Joy.
I hope you find Peace.
I hope you find Love.
I hope you find Contentment.
I hope you find Compassion.

I hope you Understand that you will not find these things looking outside yourself.
You can only find them within;
When you offer Joy to others;
Peace to others;
Love to others;
Compassion to others.

Then you will find Contentment.

I hope you find the Strength and Courage
To face all your Challenges and Trials,
Coming through them Whole,
More Complete than before;
Stronger than before;
More Compassionate than before;
More Grateful for what you have.

And if your Strength and Courage
Should fail you,
May you be surrounded by Compassionate
People with open arms waiting to take you in;
And Strong Shoulders allowing you to lean
Until Strength returns.

No Road is without pitfalls.
Yet all journeys allow us to find Beauty
If we know how to See it,
If we know how to Be it.

Stay the Journey.