Naturalists are gardeners too

Naturalists and gardeners, while maybe looking at the outside environs from different viewpoints, still have things in common when it comes to how we live in harmony with our native habitat. One of those things is eating healthy, homegrown food.

While I like to consider myself a plant person, I’m one of those people that has a hard time growing anything whose end goal is to be food on the table. That’s why I’m intrigued by the idea of growing microgreens. Microgreens have been around as “real food” since the mid-1990s, and have made their way onto many restaurant menus, and have found a niche market in grocery stores.

These seedling vegetables and herbs make great additions to salads, soups, and sandwiches. Microgreens are easy to grow. They are harvested soon after the shoots emerge from the seed, which means no more nurturing little seedlings until they’re strong enough to be planted in the ground–a skill I have yet to master.

Another positive about growing microgreens is you can grow them year-round, as long as you have a window that receives regular sunlight, or a place to hang grow lights. And, you can plant the seeds in decorative containers and turn your indoor garden into a decorative feature. Pretty much any lettuce, salad green, or herb, particularly basil, cilantro, and chervil, can be grown as a microgreen. You can also try other vegetables, like beets, radishes, broccoli, celery, carrots, cauliflower, peas, and cabbage. For the truly adventurous, try some edible flowers, like violets.

Plenty of seed sources sell microgreen seed mixes. However, you can also purchase packs of individual seeds and make your own seed mix. It’s more economical, and gives you better control over what you like.

Since the seedlings won’t grow into mature plants, it’s OK to plant several varieties of seeds in one container. The only caveat is to make sure they have the same growth rate since they will be harvested at the same time. Experimentat to find flavors that appeal to you. Seedlings have a different flavor than their adult versions, and the taste may take some getting used to.

Plant seeds in containers that have drain holes to keep the soil from becoming water-logged. Add your soil mix until it’s about an inch from the top of the container, and then moisten it.

Sprinkle the seeds over the soil. They only need about 1/8 to 1 /4 inches of space between them, and they don’t need to be in neat little rows. Barely cover them with a layer of soil, then mist. Keep the seeds moist during the growing cycle. They should not dry out, nor do they need to sit in soggy soil. Think wrung-out sponge wet.

Read the seed package directions, because the package may recommend you soak the seeds first before planting. Most seedlings are ready to harvest in about one to one and a half weeks. Usually, the seedlings will be between two to four inches tall. For vegetables wait until you see the true leaves. They look like “real” leaves. What you first see are the “seed leaves”, which are actually part of the seed.

A pair of scissors is all it takes to harvest them. If you grow lettuce, you may get another crop from the same batch. However, with most vegetables, they’re done after cutting. Leave the roots from the spent vegetables in the soil for composting, and plant another crop of seeds to keep a continuous supply of fresh greens all year.

Use the greens like any vegetable. A search for “microgreen recipes” on the internet will give you plenty of ideas.

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2010-11-04 digital edition

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