A Closer Look at Microgreens
The colder weather of the past week or so has slowed the growth of some of my salad leaves and sprouts, so it's been great to have some super speedy microgreens to fall back on to provide our salad interest this week. The lidded pots I'm using for these seems to have insulated them from the cold and so their production has continued.
It's not just the pictured radishes which are suitable for this method of growing. Fennel and Fern has come up with an impressively long list of seeds for you to try. Parsnip seems to be about the only seed positively struck off the list - @simiansuter confirmed these are toxic* during #saladchat, which was pretty timely as Mel asked if anything wasn't suitable in last month's Salad Days.
Microgreens are grown in compost (and no pre-soaking is required), so unlike their sprouted companions any spare packets of seeds you have (or ones already opened) are suitable for this method as there is no issue re eating potentially harmful (or nasty tasting) seed treatments. You're therefore probably wondering why I'm showing you a pot of seeds not grown in compost at the top of this post. It's because I'm trialling small samples of seeds in tiny pots to quickly see which ones NAH and I like the most.
You can also see in the picture how the seedlings are stretching themselves towards the light despite me growing them on the sunniest windowsill in the house and turning the pot around every few hours. It illustrates just how low our light levels still are at this time of the year - more on this in a later post.
As you can see my local supermarket sells a few microgreens at an eye watering 75p a go, whereas I'm growing mine for just a few pence. It's interesting to see these (apart from cress) aren't grown in compost, so are just single crop. In the last Salad Days, Lucy asked why compost grown is better. It means there's up to three harvests per seed (depending on how long they're grown for and how carefully they're picked, though true microgreens deliver just one crop), which can be much more economical. The supermarket ones will have exhausted their seeds' food stores and so won't grow away again like their compost grown cousins can do.
For harvesting just snip the stalks with clean scissors as soon as the first true leaves are formed and add to your salad. If you want more than one crop, then grow them for slightly longer and ensure some leaf remains so growing can restart.
Unless you grow masses of them, microgreens are more of a garnish than a salad, but they're very intense in flavour. What they lack in size, they more than make up for in taste! My radishes were ready in 2 weeks, but I expect this to go down to around 7 days later this year.
As well as radish I'm trying beetroot, rocket and coriander at the moment. @simiansuter has kindly sent me some leeks to try. He says they have an intense flavour hit, so I'm looking forward to these very much :)
Thanks to him I've also discovered Rebekah's Veg this week as a good supplier of sprouting/microgreen seeds. Each large packet costs a mere £1; minimum order is £5 and includes postage. The website is clear and simple to use and yippee, doesn't involve signing up for an account. My seeds arrived 2 days after I ordered them so their service is quick too. Other companies offering a good range specifically for microgreens are Marshalls and Suttons.
Strictly speaking my peashoots aren't microgreens as I'm growing them past the first true leaf stage, but their growing technique is the same. I'm trialling a new lighter peat-free compost with these and I've had to rescue my spraygun from the shed as this is the best way to water them without it flooding everywhere. The compost tends to dry out pretty quickly at the top, so much digging down with a finger is needed to check if watering is actually needed.
The picture shows my peas on harvest day at around the same size as shop bought pea shoots. These took 28 days which is probably quite a bit slower than they will be later on in the year. I harvested 30 shoots which weighed in at 25g. I made sure I snipped above the lowest leaf on stem when picking my shoots so regrowth could occur.
I've now had 3 harvests which yielded 75g and equates to 1.5 packets of shop bought. A 50g packet costs £1, which means a kilo costs £20! My store cupboard peas cost a mere £1.96 a kilo - less than 10% :o
A recent #saladchat conversation called these peas LEO. It reminded me of a story from our second food growing bloggers get together a couple of years ago, where our anthropologist speaker who'd been looking at allotment life in Kent said he thought he'd found a new pea variety (Leo) being grown from saved seed, until the allotmenteer admitted he'd named them after the supermarket where he bought them ;)
Further reading: Mark Diacono's A Taste of the Unexpected has a good chapter on growing microgreens.
* = so too are a number of beans if sprouted (though they will be OK for microgreens) - update to follow shortly. Mung, aduki and chickpeas already mentioned are fine though and as long as the method outlined in my seed sprouting post is followed.