Winter Gardening: Mighty 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.
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.
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 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.