Radish microgreens ready to harvest at Dutchess Farm in Castleton, VT.
Remember the adage that good things come in small packages? Let’s start with microgreens. Scientists and nutritionists say that microgreens provide a much denser source of nutrition than their mature selves. A study published on WebMD.com concluded that because they’re harvested right after germination, they still contain all the nutrients they need to grow. The flavor packs an outsize punch also, and they are great sprinkled on salads, in sandwiches or as a garnish for soups.
Microgreens are not the same as sprouts. Sprouts are newly germinated seeds that are harvested just as the seed begins to grow and before leaves develop. A sprout can grow in 3 days. Microgreens become microgreens only after the first leaves emerge. Sometimes they are harvested at the cotyledon stage (cotyledons are the first set of leaves to emerge on a plant) and sometimes after the first set of true leaves emerge. True leaves emerge right after the cotyledons.
Select your seeds
If you’re being efficient you can purchase seeds packed by the pound, especially for growing microgreens. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is one mail order company that sells them in this way. They describe the benefits on their website as ‘nutrient-dense, intensely flavorful and simply beautiful.”
Each crop has its own characteristics. Radish microgreens can add a spicy kick to salads; broccoli microgreens have a high concentration of minerals and have a mild cabbage flavor; peas are sweet and crunchy and taste like young snow peas; and sunflower microgreens make a great snack on their own.
Sow your seeds
Fill a shallow container or tray with compacted, premoistened soilless seed starting mix. Sprinkle seeds on top of the soil fairly densely. For tiny seeds such as arugula you can lightly dust the seeds with more soil and for larger seeds such as sunflower put a thicker layer of soil on top. Tamp them down gently with another tray to ensure good seed to soil contact. Water with warm water or a warm mist. Your container should have drainage holes in the bottom and you want to put a lid on top to keep the moisture in.
Keep trays warm on a heating pad or on top of your refrigerator until seeds germinate, and then move to a sunny spot near a window. As your greens grow you can put a grow light over them or leave them in a south facing window and you will have a crop you can harvest in two to three weeks.
Harvest your greens
To harvest cut the stems just above the soil line with scissors. After an entire tray is harvested put the soil and remaining roots in the compost, or you can pull the roots and reuse the soil one more time. Elizabeth Palmer Buchtman from Dutchess Farm in Castleton, VT says “Microgreens use up a lot of the nutrients in the soil because the seeds are sown densely,” so for commercial growers like Dutchess every crop starts with cleaned trays and fresh potting soil (from McEnroe Farm!).
Elizabeth, a former resident of Pawling who worked for Womanswork, sent us seeds from her farm, including arugula, pea shoots, purple radish, daikon radish and sunflower. I’ve sown my seeds and will be reporting on my success on our website and in social media in the weeks to come!
Dorian Winslow is the owner of Womanswork, Pawling NY, (Womanswork.com). Email your gardening questions and comments to DWinslow@Womanswork.com