Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Lesson in Microgreens

What are microgreens?
Microgreens is the stage of development in plants between sprouts and baby greens. They're just tiny plants. Some popular plants to eat at microgreen stage include: Amaranth, Arugula, Basil, Broccoli, Celery, Cilantro, Endive, Mustard, Pea, and Radish. There are many, many more plants that can be used though.

Why microgreens?
From Microgreens: A guide to growing nutrient-packed greens by Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson: "Growing your own microgreens gives you access to fresh, living greens all year long with minimal investment of money, time, or previous knowledge. [...] Aside from their extraordinary taste and aesthetic appeal, microgreens are also extremely nutritious. The ability to harvest and eat them within minutes gives you access to their most nutritionally rich state. They give us a strong dose of digestible vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. While your taste buds enjoy their intense flavor, your body will reap the benefits of their concentrated nutrients."

Getting Started:
First, you need seeds:

You can use seeds from your local garden store (or Whole Foods or anywhere else that sells seeds) or you can order seeds online that are specifically for microgreens from a place like Johnny's Select Seeds.

We've tried seeds from Johnny's, seeds from our local garden store (Botanical Interests is the brand of seeds) that are specifically for microgreens (mild mix and spicy mix), and regular seeds (same brand as above) from same garden store.

If you buy them online, be sure to let your pets play in the immense amount of paper that they use to wrap them up safe and sound!

Other than seeds, you will need:
a tray
We bought some trays, we got some free from our local garden center (just ask), and we found a bunch in the people's trash as we were walking through our neighborhood. The one pictured (which are the kind we've gotten free and found) are what gardening places use to carry seedlings around in and if you buy a lot of seedlings they usually let you take them home.

paper towels (unbleached)

Saran wrap and tape

and dirt/potting soil. (not pictured)

If you are using a tray that has a bunch of holes in the bottom (see the picture of me above with empty tray), cover the bottom in paper towels to keep the dirt in.

Put in your soil. This is not enough soil. (We didn't find that out until later.) Put in a couple of inches worth. You don't need A LOT of soil in there because they are just baby plants, but you do need enough that they can dig their roots in some.

Distribute your seeds.

(This is not enough. Seriously. You pretty much want to put a whole top layer of seeds covering the dirt.)

Water your seeds. Make sure the soil is wet all the way through. Water should leak out the bottom but not be pooling on top of the dirt.

Cover your tray with paper towels and water again, as my beautiful assistant has done here.

Be sure the towels are thoroughly wet (but again, no pooling of water on top).

Wrap your trays in plastic wrap, creating a cheap greenhouse. This keeps heat and water in. Just they way they like it!

About 2 days later:

At this point, there are a few little sprouts but not much else going on. Keep the paper towel and plastic on and leave them alone, unless you notice that the towel is dry. In that case, water them again, and then leave them alone.

About 4 days later:

See all those fuzzies? Those are the plant sending out scouts to find a way to root! Cool!!!!

(The fuzz is not mold. Don't mess with them.) But at this stage, you can take the paper towel off. Make sure that the dirt isn't dry (if the paper towel isn't dry when you take it off, you're probably fine). Water, if it is dry.

Also, you may lose a few sprouts when you remove the paper towel. Don't worry about it.

Otherwise, replace the plastic wrap and leave it alone again. Make sure it gets some sun.

A couple more days (around a week from starting them):

Take off the plastic wrap.

Let these babies get some sun (but not too much; early morning and late afternoon sun is best without the blaze of the day). Make sure to keep them watered.

We haven't been able to overwater ours. We water them every time we water our container garden which is about once a day, except on hot sunny days we do it twice.

It's really easy to grow a lot of microgreens (a little more difficult to do others).

We've had success with radish, arugula, and lettuce. But cilantro... not so much. (It's definitely a harder crop to do because it doesn't come up all at the same time etc.)

Doing one tray of each type of green you want seems to work best. But I've done trays of different types. The only problem I had was with the cilantro. I tried leaving it under a towel, since it wasn't ready to be uncovered but the lettuce and radish were. But it just never sprouted.

As for what kind of seeds work best:
The seeds from Johnny's have been incredible. They sprouted very consistently, taste great, and worked very well across the board.
The regular seeds (cilantro, radish, and lettuce) that we used (Botanical Interests) worked alright for the most part.
The microgreen seed mixes (also BI) kinda sucked and I'm not sure exactly why they didn't work out well.

<--They just didn't come up much. Of course, it's all still an experiment for us but in the end here's some of our wonderful success:

Once you get a tray like those above, you just need to harvest.

Use some sharp scissors (the sharper, the better), grab a handful at an edge of your tray, cut about 1/2 an inch or so off the dirt, and what's in your hand is yours to eat! You can just grab and pull but then you'll spend a lot of time washing your greens.

Then EAT! And doesn't success tastes delicious?!

(Republished from my last blog)

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