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.

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