NOT a Definitive Guide To Growing Microgreens

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Tidying up the seed-starting shelving took longer than I thought it would – it always does, doesn’t it? I had to figure out where to move the microwave which meant moving the cookbooks…and I still haven’t found a good place for the basket of cooking onions and potatoes…or my kitchen scale. And the end result, while tidy, isn’t exactly pretty…

Shelving Winter 2011

The 'before'.

The 'after'.

The 'after'.

…but it gave me some elbow room to plant some microgreens. I first read about the growing of these infant plants in the Fall 2010 issue of Urban Farm magazine and thought that they’d be an encouraging thing to try when the previous growing season was a distant memory and the upcoming season still too far away to be excited about. From some other reading I did on the subject, it seems that it’s also a good way to use up leftover seed – because I garden on a small plot of land, one small seed packet can last me several years and will most likely lose viability long before I use it up, so this seemed an ideal solution for me.*

Since reading the article, I’d been collecting those plastic containers that salad greens come in which, note to self, is not the most economical way to collect containers. At $1.50-$4.00 for a box of leaves, it’s a shocking price to pay initially, so I hope I can get a lot of use out of these things. They’re nice and deep so I can probably grow some good-sized herb plants, like basil and cilantro, in them for cutting in the winter.

I decided to use the lids of the containers as trays (other people used the lids to keep moisture in the soil until the seeds germinated) and just cover the containers with plastic bags if I needed to prevent soil evaporation. I just didn’t have enough plates and such to use as trays if I kept the lids only as lids (and plus, I labelled the containers using popsicle stick markers and the lids wouldn’t fit over top of them).

In case you really needed to see what holes drilled into a plastic container look like.

In case you really needed to see what holes drilled into a plastic container look like.

Of course, the containers needed some drainage holes in the bottom. I found it easiest to use my cordless drill to provide some since the plastic is quite soft (and hammering a nail into it would have meant going outside into the cold winter air to find a block of wood to stabilize the plastic with). I didn’t have a set formula for the holes – just drilled enough so they weren’t more than 5cm apart.

I had some potting soil left over from last year’s container plantings and had brought it inside the day before from the unheated garage to thaw out. Ideally, I would have supplemented the soil with compost but my pile is buried under many feet of snow (and is obviously not working properly since I haven’t seen any steam rising from it). Tip: it’s best if you plant your seeds in fairly-close-to room temperature soil – the seeds will germinate a little quicker and some of them, like basil and cilantro, can’t handle cold soil anyway.

After filling the containers with soil to about 5cm from the top, and misting the soil heavily (if your soil is quite dry, you might want to water it well at this point), I sprinkled my seeds over the top of the container, covered them very thinly with soil, and misted again. I use leftover grocery bags to cover any container I’m starting seeds in so that the moisture doesn’t evaporate too quickly (although, with this movement to use reuseable bags for our groceries and other purchases, my stash is getting really low). Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the bag, and make sure the seedlings have bright light, or put them under a grow light. Mist when the soil dries out and harvest when they develop their first set of true leaves (unless it’s sunflowers and then you harvest before the true leaves).

Cilantro, almost ready to eat.

Cilantro, almost ready to eat.

It seems like you can grow almost anything as a microgreen; the tiny sprouts are reputed to taste like the most intense version of the grownup plant so I kept that in mind when choosing what to grow and went pretty banal for my first attempt – a mix of corn salad (or mache)/red leaf lettuce/oakleaf lettuce/tatsoi, a mix of Genovese and lemon basil, Sugar Snap peas, cilantro, and dill.

The sowing step is where I need to do a little tweaking. It’s obvious to me now that I didn’t sow my seeds dense enough – one grower suggested a sowing density of 60% – but I had trouble gauging how much that was when it came to tiny, dark seeds. It is also obvious to me that I needed to plant the snap peas deeper since they sprouted long stems and seemed to develop mature leaves very quickly. I may have missed the harvesting window on the peas which is disappointing – my local grocery store sells a small bag of pea microgreens for $6(!) and I wanted to see what the exorbitant price was all about.

The (thinly) sown pea seeds.

The (thinly) sown pea seeds.

The overly mature snap peas.

The overly mature snap peas.

I think that’s going to be my stumbling block with microgreens – I’m not used to such instant gratification when it comes to gardening and it’s going to take me a couple of tries before I find the rhythm of it. But I have time…spring is still many months away and this is going to be all the gardening I can do for a while.

* I found these bloggers to be of great help…

Vertical Veg posts about growing food in a small, small space. Ingenious, really!

Otter Farm posts drool-worthy photos.

National Gardening Association post by Maggie Oster on how to grow microgreens.

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