By Carey Restino
It’s the same pretty much every year — the sun stays out longer, temperatures warm just a tad, and we get a chance to put our hands in the soil in those warm beds on the south side of our house.
But it’s just a tease. True gardening, and truly fresh, homegrown greens, are still a long way off for most of us, even those with a greenhouse.
So this year, I gave microgreens a try, and they made me a believer. Microgreens, like their name implies, are greens that are grown just beyond the very first stage of budding. You can grow all sorts of things as microgreens, and the flavors are fascinating. Peas, for example, beets, and itty-bitty basil and mustard greens are all wonderful. I find it amazing that the greens that eventually go on to produce something like a pod of peas actually taste like peas as a tiny sprout. As someone who was subjected to traditional sprouts as a child, microgreens are a whole new dimension, and a welcome option for those who are thirsty for greens long before Alaska’s soil is willing to produce them.
Microgreens are insanely simple to grow. You can order seed packets of mixes specifically geared for microgreen growth, or you can make your own with any lettuce seeds – or pretty much anything else you have kicking around in your seed box.
This time of year, you don’t need lights to grow them, just a sunny south-facing windowsill in a warmish spot will do. You can invest money in various mediums to plant them in, which eliminate the need to cut them off of the soil or wash them after you harvest them, but you can also sow them in plain old-fashioned dirt, too, and it works just fine.
I use two seedling trays — one with holes in the bottom and one without. Put down about an inch of potting soil — I use ProMix — and then scatter the seed over the area fairly densely. Since you are harvesting these sprouts so young, you don’t have to worry about them being overcrowded. They also don’t need to be fertilized, since they will still be drawing their nutritional needs from the seed pod.
Cover the seeds with a fine dusting of moist soil and cover the whole shebang with plastic wrap to keep the moisture inside until the seeds germinate. Mine germinated in five or six days, but that will depend on the temperature of the soil. Once they germinate, taking the plastic wrap off and make sure the soil stays moist. I water by putting a quarter inch or less of water in the bottom tray, then setting the tray with holes in it back into the water. It soaks up the moisture without having to worry about knocking all those little greens over with a flood.
Harvesting time is typically about 10 days after germination, when the greens have developed their first set of true leaves — the ones that make them look somewhat like the plant they would become if they were left to grow big.
To harvest, cut the microgreens right above the soil. I’ve also been known to pull them up, roots and all, rinse the dirt off the roots and eat the root, too.
This is a one-shot deal — you don’t get to reharvest afterward, but you can reuse the soil by simply removing the roots and scattering new seed down.
I like my microgreens mixed in with other greens in a salad. You can also use them in sandwiches or as a garnish on entrees. I’m particularly fond of a mix by Johnny’s called Spicy Micro Mix, which has a serious bite to it thanks to some mustard greens that had horseradish relatives, I think.
Hopefully, this will tide you over until real lettuce greens — which you should start from seed now along with zucchini and squash — start producing reliable crops for eating. I find they are the answer to spring fever gardening in Alaska, which is always a practice in patience.
Comments are closed