Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How To Grow MicroGreens Indoors

On cold, winter days, there's nothing like a little green to spruce up your palate. Unfortunately, fresh greens are hard to come by in cold weather. No matter how quickly they're shipped around the country, leafy vegetables begin to wilt and lose nutritional value as soon as they're harvested.Why buy expensive, days-old salad greens when you can grow fresh micro-greens right in your windowsill?

Simple to grow and packed with nutrition, microgreens are a valuable alternative to store-bought lettuce. Microgreens are the young sprouts that emerge from cool-season vegetable and herb seeds, notably radish, kale, beets, mustard, cilantro, broccoli, and cabbage. Rather than allowing them to grow to their mature size, they are typically harvested when they reach 2-3 inches in height. It's nice to plant a mixture of seeds, in order to reap the greatest range of flavors.

Harvested micro-greens are versatile in flavor, as well as color. From peppery radish to sweet baby pak choi, micro-greens brighten eggs, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Though referred to as "greens," microgreen seedlings emerge in various shades of purple, green, and yellow. Best of all, planting and harvesting requires minimal effort.

Microgreens grow quickly in a sunny windowsill, or under fluorescent plant lights.Though I use row covers to grow greens outdoors year round, it's no fun harvest anything on icy-cold, wet days.
View of my covered, raised beds on a cold, wet winter day.
Cabin fever? Take some time to do a little indoor gardening, and soon you'll be rewarded with a cut-and-come again salad garden. There are many sprouting kits available, but it's just as easy to start with recycled plastic containers and good potting mix. Recycled plastic salad containers from the grocery store are perfect for starting micro-greens indoors. Purchase a packet of mixed micro-green seeds, or mix your own using a combination of your favorite herbs, lettuce, beets, and brassicas. Mix 1/2 t. of each seed variety, until you have about 1/4 c. of seeds. This will be enough to cover multiple seed flats.

Seed catalogs and nurseries are good sources for mixed micro-green seeds, but they may not stock individual vegetable seeds in mid-winter. Stock up in fall or early spring, and store the seed packets in the freezer until you're ready to use them.  

Use a commercial potting mix for vegetables, or create your own. In the interest of time, I store a small bag of organic potting mix in the basement. This enables me to start new seed trays whenever I have a spare 10 minutes. 

Eight Easy Steps For Growing MicroGreens

1. Whether using a garden-variety seed palate, or a recycled plastic container, drainage holes are vital. Score the bottom of the plastic container (this can be a berry tray, yogurt cup, milk jug, soda bottle, or anything else made of plastic, clay, or resin) so that there are about three drainage holes.

2. Moisten the soil mix before placing it in the seed tray or pots. The seeds are tiny, and watering from above right after planting will only wash them away. The moist soil should form a loose ball when squeezed. It should not feel muddy.

3. Sprinkle the seed mixture on top of the moistened soil. Cover with another 1/4 inch of soil.

4. Place the containers in a sunny window, or under grow lights. In this case, I am using grow lights to make use of my grow stand, and because I have no more space on my windowsill. I set a timer so that the plants receive 12 hours of light. The lights hover about 6 inches above the containers. 

Remember to label seed trays that are contain only one variety of plant.

5. Cover the growing containers loosely with plastic wrap, or with the lid that came with the container. This forms a mini-greenhouse, in which water is captured on the top surfaced and recycled thorough the soil.

6. Place the containers in an enclosed flat, or on a saucer. Pour a little water onto the base to allow the plants to wick the water up through the soil. 

7. Seedlings will emerge in 3-7 days. As soon as green sprouts appear, remove the plastic wrap and/or plastic lids. 

8. Harvest the micro-greens when they are 2-3 inches tall and the first leaves, or cotyledons, appear. Use scissors to snip the top inch, or pinch them off with your fingers. 

Recent research suggests that pl ants harvested as microgreens contain up to five times more vitamins and carotenoids than their mature counterparts. They are extremely delicate and perishable. Growing them at home ensures they're fresh and chemical-free. Sprinkle them on just about anything, and call yourself a garden-to-table gourmet! 

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