When Gardening Space is Limited or Non Existent
The warm summer air has got me yearning to plant, seed, sprout, and grow something. But city dwelling doesn’t always lend itself well to this task.
Without outdoor space or even a balcony (and the community garden down the street has a five-year wait list) the options are limited. That just means you need to get extra creative. Fear not, there are plants that you can grow indoors.
That leads me to the topic of today’s post — Growing Your own Microgreens — my new edible project.
What Are Microgreens?
As their name implies, microgreens are small edible plants that don’t require much space, which makes them ideally suited for cramped urban living.
A few years back, I took a microgreens workshop with Bill Shores (who manages Chef Rick Bayless’ organic gardens for his restaurants in Chicago).
He recommends growing these greens stacked on shelves, under lights. But, I don’t have room for such a set up (in my over-priced, under-sized, one bedroom).
Growing Microgreens On Your Windowsill
So, decided to see how they would do if I just put them in front of the window sill (after sprouting; see notes on sprouting below). The only downfall is that my cat also thinks these are a tasty treat and I find him mischievously nibbling on them from time to time.
This is also a great project for kids. Something they can nurture and take care of themselves, gaining appreciation for where their food comes from, and tasting the fruit of their labor (with minimal effort).
A few ideas on what to do with microgreens…a great addition to liven up any salad, soup, or sandwich.
A word on microgreens…
After a little research, I learned that sprouts and microgreens are not the same.
- Sprouts are seeds germinated in water just long enough (usually 48 hours) to grow roots, a stem and pale, underdeveloped leaves.
- Microgreens, on the other hand, need to grow in soil and under direct light before you can harvest them.
Microgreens are the first true leaf stage of growth.
An interesting tidbit…
Researchers at the USDA and University of Maryland, College Park (yay, my alma mater) looked at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals – including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — in 25 varieties of microgreens.
They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to forty times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. So, they are not only tasty, but highly nutritious as well.
A Few Of My Microgreens
These are beet microgreens…
These are onion microgreens….
These are broccoli rabe microgreens…
Growing Microgreens On Your Windowsill
- Organic potting soil
- Trays (any size/type tray will do; I used a couple of baking pans)
- Organic, untreated seeds (check out Mumm's Sprouting Seeds and Johnny's Selected Seeds)
- Step 1: For sunflower seeds and wheat grass (hard winter red wheat) -- soak the seeds/grain in warm water (~70 degree) for 8 hours or overnight in a glass jar (a glass canning jar with a mesh top works well). Drain well. Place the jar in a warm, dark space, rinsing and draining 2 times a day, until they start to sprout and you see a small white root (this will take a few days). For other seeds, you can skip this step and move on to step 2. To give you an idea how much sunflower seeds to start with: ½ to ¾ cup for a 9 X 9 tray is plenty.
- Step 2: In a bucket, moisten the organic potting soil with water (moist but not soaked). Fill the trays/containers with soil to within ½ inch of the top of each container. Level the soil with your hand.
- Step 3: Sprinkle the seeds across the entire soil surface. For smaller seeds, like the radish, broccoli raab, and arugula, you want ¼ inch spaces between seeds. For larger seeds, like the sunflower, the seeds should be touching, covering the entire surface of the soil. Make sure each seed is in contact with the soil surface (otherwise they will not germinate).
- Step 4: Mist the seeds with a spray bottle (which will gently push the seeds into the soil) until the soil surface is damp.
- Step 5: Stack the containers on top of each other and place an empty container on top. The stacking keeps the seeds in the dark and in contact with the soil, ideal for germination. Keep the trays in a warm place (ideally between 72-75 degrees) for about 3-5 days. Each day check the moisture, if they are dry, mist with water.
- Step 6: After about 3-5 days, as the seedlings start to push up, they are ready to be put under the light. The broccoli raab, radish, and arugula will be ready to be put under the light first, after about 2-3 days, while the sunflower seeds will take a bit longer, about 4-5 days.
- Step 7: Place the containers in front of a windowsill. Make sure to keep the soil moist. The microgreens need about 12 to 14 hours of light per day. Rotate the trays every few days so that all the seedlings get equal exposure to sunlight.
- Step 8: Harvest the seedlings with scissors when the leaves are fully formed and are about 2-4 inches long (a few days to a week or so, depending on the microgreen).
- Step 9: Enjoy! Use a bit as garnish to liven up just about any dish.
- The microgreens can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Although, I just harvest as needed.
- The soil can be composted (with redworms) and recycled