Okay, I freely confess it, I’m a bandwagon jumper. At least in this case, anyway. The Spring 2011 issue of Enjoy Gardening magazine has made me want to grow microgreens…yes, I’m talking about that trendy new craze in salads. But I don’t think it’s a fad, actually: there’s definitely something to this when you consider that the cost of vegetables is climbing through the roof, and on top of that you really never know what kind of chemicals or other unsavoury elements food plants have been exposed to unless you grow them yourself. And who doesn’t crave the exciting, fresh flavours of home-grown veggies? Factor in the apparent simplicity and speed of microgreen growing and harvesting, and the fact that you can do it indoors at any time of the year and I’m completely sold on this whole idea.
So, what exactly are microgreens? They’re not sprouts, actually – sprouts are grown in water, and they’re usually harvested before they’re permitted to grow a set of true leaves. And microgreens are not the same as “baby greens” – baby greens are more mature when harvested and possess several sets of young leaves. Those fancy mesclun mixes you buy in the grocery store are considered baby greens. Microgreens are grown in a sterile soilless potting mix (or, often, vermiculite) and are harvested just as soon as they form a set or two of true leaves (botanically called cotyledons). Depending on the type of microgreen you’ve planted, it can take just two weeks from sowing to the dinner plate – an enticing turnaround!
Planting microgreens seems like a breeze, although I must admit it will be difficult to choose exactly which plant varieties I will want to seed first. (Thankfully premixed microgreen seed blends are available to make things easier if I so desire). You can plant nearly anything: lettuces, cabbages, chard, celery, radishes, kohlrabi, arugula, kale, turnips, parsley, basil, watercress, peas, endives, mustards, beets…well, you get the picture. Bear in mind, of course, that the flavour of these young plants will be far more intense than that of the mature versions – that might influence your decision on what to try. And be sure to use untreated seed! You can buy one of those special microgreen “planting mats” or just sow the seeds thickly in a cheap seedling starter tray (make sure it has a plastic dome). Thinly topdress with whatever soilless mixture you’ve selected to use and water the seeds in, careful not to unsettle them. Maintain the plastic lid on the tray and periodically spritz the seeds with water. Keep the entire project warm; direct sunlight isn’t necessary until the seeds actually sprout. It seems that microgreens aren’t really susceptible to most of the diseases that plague other plants, due to the fact that they’re harvested so young, but I would imagine damping off is a distinct possibility so be very, very careful with your watering habits and make sure you maintain an even soil temperature.
And it’s that easy! (I think). Harvesting is as convenient as a quick green haircut with a pair of kitchen shears, and then you just reseed for your next crop. Apparently all the rage in salads, microgreens are also great in stir fries and I’m thinking a ham and Swiss sandwich would be mightily enhanced with a handful of tender, peppery radish or mustard greens. Mmmm….