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.


Know Thyself

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

On our recent trip out to the east coast to visit my folks, my parents gave me a book called The Gin-and-Tonic Gardener: Confessions of a Reformed Compulsive Gardener by Janice Wells. Do they not know me? How could they have missed the fact that going out to the garden to work is one of the things that provides me with relief and keeps me sane? But perhaps I missed the point? Maybe my parents were hinting that not everyone feels the same about their work in the garden and they are trying to save my customers and clients from my rather extreme view on weeding (LOVE it!)?

Don’t Be Afraid of Me

Okay, I’m (probably) not that bad. I understand that there’s more people out there who view gardening as something to be avoided at all costs then there are those of us who have to watch others eyes glaze over as we explain how to care for a shrub (hey, if you don’t want to listen, then don’t make the mistake of claiming, within my hearing, that you can’t keep a plant alive). So I keep the lecturing down to a scarce 5 minutes.

Shh! Want To Know a Secret?

But here’s the thing…despite what all the television shows and magazine articles tell you, gardening takes work! Really, it does! They just don’t want to tell you that because they’re worried you’ll be scared and not want to try it.

That was part one of the secret. The second part of the secret is that, if you know yourself, gardening can be less like work and more like play. Case in point, I hate to water! Funny, right? An essential part of keeping a plant alive is providing it with water and I can’t abide standing there with a hose, swishing water around and getting attacked by mosquitoes. So, knowing and accepting this about myself, I’ve installed an above-ground irrigation system on a timer – it costs a bit of coin but now I’m free to spend my time weeding.

Now I know there are people out there with a distaste for other gardening tasks so, briefly, I’ll try to offer some advice…

Not fond of weeding? Plant close together (the technical term is ‘intensive planting’) and mulch.

Can’t stand thinning? Sow thinly or start plants in individual containers so that, when you plant them in the ground, you can control the spacing and not have to thin (unfortunately, doesn’t work for most root vegetables).

Watering doesn’t work for you? Do what I did, mulch thickly, or plant a cactus and succulent garden.

Can’t figure out the fertilizer requirements? Use compost on everything – it’s a natural, slow-release fertilizer, an excellent soil conditioner, and a useful mulch.

Don’t like to provide support? Plant low-growing, self-supporting varieties (avoid non-determinate tomatoes and climbing snap peas, for example).

Pruning bores you? Can’t help you there!

Another Secret

As you have now found out, I don’t have all the answers.

And, if you found yourself memorizing all the ways to avoid having to garden, accept the truth – a gardener you shouldn’t be. And that’s okay! I’m sure you have other skills just as important and maybe one of them is the ability to support a local food grower, either in your own household (as in the case of my husband), or in your local farmers’ market. That way, we can all bring something to the table.

Tied Up

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Lashing for the tomato supports as a metaphor for my life? Or am I overthinking this?

Lashing for the tomato supports as a metaphor for my life? Or am I overthinking this?

This post’s title refers as much to me and my time as it does to the tomatoes. I’ve been wanting to write about, what I think is, an elegant solution to supporting tomatoes but have been struggling to find the time to put it together. And it’s had me thinking about how the kitchen garden is working within the framework of a balanced lifestyle, one where I have the time to spend on the people and relationships and things that are important to me. It’s a thought process that I’m sure many people are familiar with (although we all arrive at different conclusions). For me, planting a kitchen garden is part of how I balance my ‘work’ and ‘play’…I’ve decided I don’t like categorizing my activities like that – ‘work’ should be playful and ‘play’ can become work too easily – but it’s a commonly understood shorthand to how we view ‘things we have to do’ (for survival) and ‘things we choose to do’ (for pleasure). 

I don’t have to grow a kitchen garden for survival. In these days where we fear for our food security, it’s a common enough reason that people give for growing their own food (and, in some scenarios, a completely valid one) but it’s not my motivation.

I don’t have to grow a kitchen garden so I can eat ‘organic’ produce. I do garden sustainably without the use of synthetic, petroleum-based substances (except from my car) but it’s because it’s cheaper – compost is free fertilizer – and easier -a balanced ecosystem takes care of itself. And okay, it’s satisfying to know that I’m ingesting a few less chemicals when I eat from my garden.

I don’t have to grow a kitchen garden to save money on the grocery bill. It just so happens that I buy fewer groceries but again, it’s not my primary motivation.

I choose to grow a kitchen garden for the creating, the nurturing, the tasting, the pure pleasure of it all. I am not romanticizing the effort involved – the dirt, the sweat, the bugs, the fact that gardening is as much about dispensing death as it is about nurturing life – but, at the end of the day, it is one of the things in my life that brings me the most soul satisfaction; it is my ‘play’ time.

This blog is too. But, unfortunately, the thing that I have to do (work) is sapping the energy I need for the thing I choose to do (writing). So, of course, the only conclusion I can reach is that the work thing is going to have to change.

Stay tuned for how (if) I can manage to get more play from my work (and for the post on how to support tomatoes)…