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Microgreens: Grow Your Own Multi-Vitamins

Saturday, October 31, 2015

 

Red cabbage microgreens; via wikimedia commons

A “microgreen” is a trendy word that simply describes the infant stage of a mature vegetable. Turns out these cute babies are 5-25 times more nutrient dense than their mature selves will grow up to be. Last January the USDA published the findings of the Agricultural Research Service in Maryland, where researchers “tested twenty-five varieties of microgreens for their nutrient levels and found on average they had about five times greater levels of vitamins than their mature counterparts.” (January 2014, Agricultural Research Magazine). Microgreens of daikon, red cabbage, amaranth and cilantro packed the biggest punch of Vitamins C, K, E, and beta-carotene. A sprinkle of microgreens on your food is like waving a wand of vitamin-packed fairy dust over everything you eat.  Microgreens are not, however, a get out of jail free card to avoid eating vegetables. Fully grown vegetables provide crucial fiber and that smug feeling of fullness you get from eating half a head of roasted cauliflower and calling it dinner. 

Grow

Why pay $6.99 for a tiny bag when growing your own is cheaper and more fun?  All you need to start are some organic vegetable seed packets, a shallow planting container, some organic potting mix and a spray bottle. Since it’s now fall, you might be able to score deals on clearance seed sales. If you like the vegetable fully grown, chances are you will love the tender but punchy flavor of its infant form. Kale, arugula, beets, chard, cabbage, and broccoli all sprout easily. Pea shoots with their delicate tendrils are a delight in January. If you find success with your ol’ standbys, be bold and try new varieties, like bok choy, radishes, amaranth or mustard greens. Micro crops of herbs like cilantro, basil and chives make cute countertop companions and lend delicious flavor bumps to dishes.  

For containers, seed trays work well. Alternatively, reuse a clear plastic salad mix box with a few holes cut in the bottom for drainage. Ceramic pots are aesthetically pleasing, but require more soil to fill the pot than with a shallow tray. Whatever container you select, make sure you have a water catchment tray underneath. Baking sheets or lasagna pans work great. 

Soak the seeds overnight to speed up germination. Fill the tray with potting mix then sprinkle the seeds so they are about 1 cm apart. Don’t worry too much about spacing, since they will grow crammed together just fine! Cover the seeds with a 1/8 inch of soil and spritz the tray until it is saturated. Label the tray with the variety and the date. Place the tray in the most well-lit window of your home, say a little prayer to the fertility gods and then wait. When the seedlings start to come up, keep spritzing the soil a little bit every day. 

Harvest

Harvest the greens with scissors when the babies are 1-2 inches tall and have at least 2-4 seed leaves. Once snipped, the plants will likely send up new shoots several times. If you have kids, let them sprout their own tray of greens. Picky eaters are much more likely to eat greens that they have grown themselves.

Sprinkle microgreens on top of salads and sandwiches. Pack in Vietnamese summer rolls with rice noodles, mint and chopped peanuts, or garnish hearty winter soups with baby rainbow chard and cilantro.  Once you start microgreen growing, it is impossible not to marvel at the miraculous stamina and determination of baby plants. Their beguiling color and fresh taste is the vitamin-packed cherry on top of your salad.  Happy sprouting. 

An urban farmer and master gardener, Amélie Rousseau writes for fellow explorers and eaters of the plant kingdom. It's a jungle out there. 

 

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