Winter Gardening: Mighty Micro-Greens

Nutritious Micro-Greens

From tiny seeds emerge tasty micro-greens. These lowly seeds bring forth a burst of flavor and color that can brighten up our day and make us turn our thoughts to Spring. Since winter is on its way, I have turned my attention toward small scale gardening. With a little time, a small amount of space, and some loving care the seeds that you plant can produce the same small greens that are being sold in upscale restaurants and in the bags at the store as Spring Greens for a fraction of the cost.

Micro-Greens are not the same thing as Sprouts. Sprouts are grown in a covered container. They can be grown in low light, because of the short amount of time it takes to produce a small sprout. About 5 to 7 days depending on the type of seed used. Also Sprouts are not grown in soil, the seeds are first soaked then rinsed a couple times a day until they have sprouted and produced the first pale leaves. The difference isn’t just in the way they are produced, but in the final result.

Grown in potting mix, Micro-Greens can take anywhere from 10 to 15 days for the faster growing varieties, to 16 to 25 days for the slower growing varieties. They require good light and ventilation to keep them healthy. They are the same herbs and salad vegetables that are grown in our gardens during the spring and summer only harvested when they are a lot smaller.

Growing Micro-Greens takes very little investment. Some of the things you will need are: Small square containers that have drainage holes, like the plastic ones at the store that are filled with mushrooms or the Earthbound Organic salad mixes, something to put under the container to catch the excess water, a good potting mix, a few different varieties of seed (see varieties below), something to water with, and a window with good bright light or, even better, a simple grow light with a timer. I suggest starting with one or two varieties of seed. Fill your container with potting mix to about ½ inch from the top, then firm and flatten the soil. Next, sprinkle some of the seed on top of the soil. It should look like it would if you were peppering your food, it is ok for the seeds to overlap a little. You want the plants to grow in a dense mass so that they grow straight with tender stems.

Micro greens 2

Seeded container

Cover the seeds with about ¼ inch of soil. To start with I use a mister to water the seeds so that I don’t move them around too much. Later, when the seeds have sprouted, you can use a measuring cup to gently water your micro-greens farm. Water only until the soil is damp wet, not soggy. You can cover the container at first to keep moisture in and create greenhouse like conditions, but remove the cover as soon as you see the first sprouts. Set the containers in a bright window or under a grow light that is no more than 10 inches from the top of the container and nature will do the rest. You should see green sprouts in 3 to 10 days depending on the variety of seed used. Then water enough to keep the soil damp but not soggy, roots need oxygen to stay healthy. If you eat a lot of micro-greens the small containers can be planted 7 to 10 days apart so you will always have a fresh crop.

Though there are many varieties of seeds that can be used for micro-greens here are just a few suggestions and their characteristics. Fast growing varieties: Mildly sweet Chinese Cabbage, peppery flavored Cress, mildly flavored Red Russian Kale, Spicy flavored Ruby Streaks Mustard, Mildly flavored Red Cabbage. The fast growing varieties germinate in 3 to 5 days and are generally ready to harvest in 10 to 15 days.

Mixed lettuce and herb micro greens

Slower growing varieties: Lemony flavored Sorrel, Carrot flavored carrots grown for their tops, Spicy flavored Arugula, Pink stemmed Red Gunner Purslane, Deep red Bulls Blood Beet with its spinach like flavor. The slower growing varieties will germinate in 5 to 7 days and be ready for harvest in 15 to 25 days. Also many herbs can be used for Micro-Greens. All of the Basils, Dill, Cilantro, and Parsley are a few easy suggestions. Finally, any type of vegetable that is grown for Lettuce or Greens can be used for Micro-Greens. You can combine different seeds to get a mixed crop, but always mix slow growing seed with slow growing seed or fast growing seed with fast growing seed. This way the plants in the mixed container will mature at the same rate.

Harvesting what you have sown is a fairly simple affair. You will need a small pair of kitchen shears and a container either to eat out of or to store you harvest in the refrigerator for later. Many of the seeds sold for Micro-Greens have harvesting instructions on them, but as with everything else there is a rule of thumb. Hopefully it’s a green thumb. Most greens are ready to harvest when they are 3 to 4 inches tall. If the plant has a long stem topped with just the baby leaves, these are the first leaves to appear and usually don’t look anything like the true leaves, wait until the first true leaves have unfurled to harvest. Using the small kitchen shears simply trim the tops of the greens off even with the top of the container. They are ready to eat immediately and if they don’t have any of the potting mix on them they don’t even have to be rinsed. If you are storing them for later in the day put them into a sealable container without rinsing them, but do rinse and pat or spin them dry before serving. Since it is so convenient having your own mini garden, you always have fresh greens available, there really is no reason to have to store the greens unless there are too many. As with anything the more you grow the better you will get at judging how much to grow for your family’s use.

Micro Greens 4

Micro-Greens ready to harvest

Micro-Greens can be used a lot like sprouts, on salads, in sandwiches and as a topping on soup. They can also be tossed with warm or cool pasta, some fresh cut tomatoes, olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a light meal. Wheat Grass and Barley Grass are mainly used for juicing and are considered one of the super foods. Micro-Greens also work well in sandwich wraps and if a quick snack is what you are looking for, simply snip and eat. What a great way to add some color to the house. It is healthy, edible color to boot and a lot less expensive than the spring greens at the grocery store. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how easy this project is.

Micro Greens 5

Time to enjoy!


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Lake Effect

Lake Effect 1

There a phenomenon in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lake States called the Lake Effect. Though it happens in every season it’s at its best in the winter. Lake Effect is a fickle creature whose rains and snows are at the mercy of the direction and strength of the wind. If you’ve ever lived in this area you understand.

One minute it can look like the Lake Effect 1 Pic. 

Magnificently big snowflakes cascading to the ground.  Covering everything in sight and five minutes later –

You get this, the Lake Effect 2 pic,with the sun reflecting off the snow-covered landscape.

Lake Effect 2

For us it is Lake Michigan that gives us this wonderfully fickle weather.  In summer our area can be bathed in sunshine with the temperature around 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity.  Then the rumbling starts off to the west and black storm clouds begin to rise on horizon.  The leaves of the trees curl their underside upward and air turns an odd greenish color.  The heat is suddenly replaced by a chilly breeze that brings goosebumps up on your skin.  Then the downpour begins as puffs of dust rise with each raindrop and all you want to do is dance in it with your face turned up to the sky.  As suddenly as it started it is over, but there in the sky in all it’s jaw dropping wonder is the Lake Effect 3 pic.

Lake Effect 3

Lake Michigan moderates our weather.  It’s not quite as cold in the winter and for the most part not quite as hot in the summer as some of the surrounding area.  I lived for a while in Florida and I wouldn’t trade it for Michigan.  I couldn’t give up the long Summer days of garden bounties, vibrant colors of Fall, the pristine snow coverings of Winter, and the long-awaited colors and smells of Spring.  The seasons are the circle of my life.  I am totally, comfortably, excitedly, and passionately in love with where I live.

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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Life


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Tell Me A Story

My Uncle Gordon and Mom at my Grandfathers gasstation/Grocery Store at Walton Rd and Old US 31 in Niles MI around 1930

     Listen.  Can you hear it? The hum in the air as friends and family gather
together. Really listen as the humming harmony of voices begins to
separate into each familiar voice. The voices tell of life past and
present, of comedy, tragedy, and drama. It’s all playing out right
there if you listen.

     With the starting of the New Year maybe it’s
time to learn about your story. When I was little my Grandfather
was always telling me about how he grew up. Of course he had found
a willing audience. Then sometime in the mid to late 1960’s my mom
talked him into writing down the things and events that he
remembered. He didn’t think it was that interesting, but he granted
her request in long hand. Mom carefully typed it out on our old
manual typewriter not once, but at least 6 times. Ah, the good old
days. I keep my copy in a safe place, pulling it out now and then
to share with someone. Someday I will take the time to put it into
the computer.

     I believe we all have a story to tell. Maybe because
we’ve been the ones living our lives we feel, like my Grandfather
did, that it’s not interesting. You would be surprised at the tales
that can be told to the willing listener, and the pleasure it

     One place to find out about your story is with older
relatives. Now that the colder days are setting in it is the time
of year that is lonelier for our older friends and relatives. Many
have a hard time getting out and would love a visitor. Sure, it’s
nice to talk about what is happening now in our lives, but many
age-challenged people don’t have a lot going on right now to talk
about. What they do have is history and when encouraged to do so
they love to talk about. Our older population has so much to teach
us about history and our ancestral background, if we take the time
to ask. You could start off asking things like: “Where were you
born?” “What was the house you lived in like?” or “What was the
depression like?” Many of the elderly population have first hand
knowledge of growing up in the 1930’s. The things that shaped their
lives and in turn the lives of their children are sometimes taken
for granted now. Ask permission first, but write it down or even
ask the person if they would consider writing things down. Even
just jotting down short memories that they happen upon when no one
is around can be great areas of discussion when you do visit.

     When family or friends gather together is another time that the stories
will fly. Sometimes each one is bigger than the last and, believe
me, they are told from many different perspectives. In this relaxed
atmosphere the brain tends to open up. One memory will trigger
another and another. This brings up long forgotten events,
emotions, and names of friends that have moved on to other places
and new adventures. This can also be a little scary when everyone
is talking about the girl or guy in our 4th hour history class in
high school and the only name we can come up with is “You know who
I’m talking about, get out the yearbook”. Of course this adds a lot
more memories to the discussion or fuel to the fire. It’s always
good for a few laughs and also a few sad reminders.

     Before there was written history there were stories told around the campfire.
These stories were passed down from one generation to the next.
Slowly as families grew farther apart the family connections were
lost and the stories were forgotten. Maybe it’s time we got
reconnected. While there is still time to learn about past
generations, talk to the older people in your life while they are
still here. You might be surprised at what you find out. All it
takes is asking someone “Please, tell me a story about your past.
Tell me what your life was like. Tell me what the depression was
like. Tell me about the war. Tell me about my Family. I will make
time to listen.”


Posted by on December 31, 2010 in Life, Random things from the farm


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Preserving Perseverance

                When it comes to food, I like to remember the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  While the Ant spent his summer stocking up on food for winter, the Grasshopper frivolously spent his summer eating through the many delectable leaves of his domain, saving nothing for the winter to come.  Some years I’m the Grasshopper and some years I’m the Ant.

                During the intermittent year that I’m the Grasshopper I don’t feel that I have the time to preserve food for the coming winter.  I have become very good at coming up with reasons that I shouldn’t take up my time with food preservation.  My brain tells me, “It’s easier to just go to the store and pick up whatever I need”, or “It’s cheaper if I wait until whatever I need is on sale”, or “It’s just as good as what I put up”, even “I’m too tired” or it’s too hot”.  The last two are when I’m really in a whiny mood and can’t come up with anything else. 

                To tell the truth, during the years that I’m in Ant mode, there is a real feeling of satisfaction when I look at the shelf where my preserves set and think to myself, “Yes, I did that and isn’t it pretty.”  There are real benefits to canning your own food.  You know who preserved your food.  You know what is in that jar of peaches or pears because it was within your control the whole time. You know when the food was preserved, thus how long it has been in the jar.  You know where your food came from and in my case that it was from a local farmer.  You are spending money in your local area so it benefits the local economy and so is the farmer that just received your hard earned money.  You know how the food was handled.  You know why you do canning, for purely hedonistic motives.  What, you might ask, is the historical significance?  Why I remember my Grandmother canning Tomatoes and fruits when I spent summers there.  So, I can still keep the feeling of those days gone by.  This is one of those comfort memories that makes me feel good.

                 The science of canning is fairly straight forward.  For high acid foods like tomatoes, fruits or anything made with fruit, and anything that is pickled, the heat of a Hot Water Bath Canner, also called a Kettle Canner is sufficient.  For all other vegetables and meats a pressure canner is a necessity.  When your jars are filled and the lids and bands have put into place they are then placed into the canner.  When you heat the jars their contents start to expand and the air that is left at the top is forced out.  This happens even if the lids are on tightly.   After the allotted time has passed the jars are removed from the canner and left to set and cool at room temperature.  The contents start to contract and PING, the vacuum seal is made.  The heat destroys bacteria, molds and enzymes that cause food to spoil and yeasts that cause fruits to ferment.  Basically the seal keeps all the good stuff in and bad stuff out.

                Preserving food by this method is not hard to succeed at as long as you pay attention to the details.  Having a good book on canning on hand is a great idea.  The Ball Blue Book is my favorite and it teaches you a lot along the way.  Making sure everything that touches the food, whether it is cold packed or hot packed, is sterilized in boiling water is very important.  Also, the suggestions for the amount of time to process the jars in the boiling water or under pressure should be followed.  I haven’t canned in almost 10 years so I bought a new Ball Blue Book and spent an evening reading through it a little before I embarked back on this adventure.

                There are some basic supplies you will need.  A pressure canner or a hot water bath canner is your initial investment and it will give you years of return on your investment.  This item can also be borrowed from a friend or relative who might also be willing to help by passing on their knowledge of canning.  Second, an assortment of jars, either regular or wide mouth, that are meant for canning.  You can use used canning jars, but you have to be diligent about checking them for chips or cracks that could spoil you canning experience.  Always use new lids on the jars although the rings can be used over and over.  Other things like a food funnel for putting the food in the jar neater, a jar lifter for moving the hot jars, and a thin blunt utensil for releasing air bubbles from around the food in the jar before you put the lid on are handy but not necessary.  A butter knife works well for releasing air bubbles. Clean old towels to set the hot jars on to cool.  You don’t have to have the most expensive equipment.  It’s better to just keep it simple.

                I remember those hot fall days in my Grandmas kitchen with my mom and aunts canning everything in sight, including me if I didn’t get out of the way.  It was sweltering and messy and in the mind of a kid I wonder who would ever want to do this every year.  Now I think to myself, as I look at the pretty rows of preserves on my shelf, who wouldn’t want to do this.  Now, on to Apple Sauce.


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