By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening
Microgreens are vegetable and herb seeds grown in water or in soil and harvested when they have only one or two sets of leaves.
Baby greens, sold as bagged baby green salad or mesclun, are essentially the same thing but grown a few more weeks until the leaves are larger.
To have a pot full of microgreens, sow the seeds close together. Planted that way, the seedlings grow tall and straight with a tender stem and bright-colored leaves.
The attraction of microgreens is their nutritional value. Some, such as broccoli, flax, beets, mustard, chia and wheat grass, are grown for specific healing properties. Others, such as sunflowers, corn and pea shoots, are grown as nutritious garnishes for the restaurant industry.
The vitamin and mineral values of microgreens is concentrated. WebMd says they are 40 times more nutrient dense than full-size lettuce, cabbage, and other green vegetable leaves.
Sharon Owen, who owns Moonshadow Herb Farm, grows microgreens to sell at the Muskogee Farmers Market. “A lot of people grow them on a sunny porch or deck if they live in a temperate climates,” she said. “I grow them under lights, in a controlled environment that is very clean, so there is little chance of anything going wrong.”
Here are the basics of growing microgreens at home in containers:
• Find a warm place where containers will receive at least four hours of sunlight or bright artificial light.
• Select containers that are 2 inches deep (recycled yogurt containers, etc.)
• If you have a clear plastic berry or lettuce box (clamshell), line it with a coffee filter.
• Microgreen growing mats are also available (www.growingmicrogreens.
• Fill containers with soil-less planting mix and lightly press soil to firm.
• Scatter seeds 1/4 inch apart.
• To speed the growth process, seeds can be soaked overnight before planting.
• Cover the seeds with 1/8 to 1/4 inch planting mix or vermiculite.
• Spray the planted seeds with a misting bottle or water the containers from the bottom. Never let them dry completely and never let the soil stay dripping wet. When the first leaves appear, they can be clipped and eaten or allowed to grow more.
• Spotlessly clean growing conditions and water are critical to avoiding contamination problems.
• In five to 21 days, harvest the greens by snipping off the tops when they have 2 sets of leaves (one set of true leaves) or allow them to grow larger, as desired. When I presoaked radish seeds and put the container under lights, single-leaf microgreenswere were ready to use in five days.
• For a continuous supply, snip the plants above the first set of leaves and allow them to grow longer, or plant fresh seeds every seven to 10 days.
• After harvesting microgreens, discard the soil and seeds, sterilize the containers and begin again.
Some popular microgreens include: arugula, basil, radish, peas, chives, red cabbage, watercress, kale and lettuce.
Jalene Riley, the owner of Utopia Gardens in Drumright, said: “I like to mix seed varieties for more flavor. You could combine lettuce, arugula, broccoli and pre-soaked pea seeds to make a delicious microgreen salad.”
Until gardening season begins in April, you can bring nutrition and fresh flavors to your table and lunch box with homegrown microgreens.
There is a good tutorial with helpful step-by-step illustrations at http://bit.ly/XeRNag.
Growing Microgreens (www.growingmicrogreens.com) has kits that cost $30 to $90.
SproutPeople (http://sproutpeople.org) sells seeds; the “Sprout School” link on its website is informative.
For visual learners, Benjamin Carroll of the Chicago Botanic Garden has a video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h1ADMsKQTg.
Companies such as Johnny’s Seeds and High Mowing Seeds sell microgreen and sprouting seeds, and many can be purchased locally.
For more instructions and resources visit Mark Braunstein’s website at www.markbraunstein.org/growmicrogreens.htm.