I was recently lucky enough to win a copy of an ebook ‘Growing Microgreens Step by Step (From Seed to Table in 7 to 10 Days)’ by Susan Alima Friar which she was giving away on her blog Gaia’s Creations. I jumped at the chance to enter the competition as I have been meaning to begin growing my own food at home for a long time, but I have never gotten around to anything more ambitious than pots of herbs on the windowsill. I had intended on starting with sprouting and microgreens as it seemed to be a relatively easy first step. Susan’s promise that you can successfully grow a number of crops from seed to table in 7 to 10 days was exactly what I was looking for and it spurred me on to finally give it a try.
Susan’s passion for nutrition, food sustainability, healthy agriculture and community shines through in this book, and this genuine passion and enthusiasm is a nice backdrop to the wealth of information which she shares with the reader. Susan has peppered her book with quotes on mindfulness in the hopes to encourage peace and possibility in her reader. She encourages the reader to pick their favourite quote and let it inspire them. My favourite was “Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh I love how Susan connects mindfulness with growing your own organic, nutritious food -what could be more mindful!
Sprouts are formed from germinated seeds which have first been soaked and rinsed which neutralizes their enzyme inhibitors and ‘unlocks’ their nutrient potential. Microgreens are young shoots grown from (usually) sprouted herb, vegetable or edible flower seeds. While sprouts offer a wealth of nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals and enzymes, by allowing these seeds to grow on a covered shallow bed of soil, you get a very young plant at a more advanced stage than sprouts, and with a generally higher nutritional content than it’s mature plant potential. Aside from the obvious nutritional benefit, Susan reminds us that growing microgreens is easy, fast and requires little space, light or specialist equipment. It is also cost effective, as sprouts and microgreens are generally expensive to buy in a store and tend to have a short shelf life once picked. By growing your own, with minimal time and effort you can have fresh, nutritious greens every day of the year.
Susan offers very clear advise on the mediums in which you can grow your greens. While specialist equipment is not necessary, I saw a heated seed propagator on sale in a gardening shop and decided to buy it to start me off well on my microgreen journey but Susan stresses that empty plastic containers are all that are required. If your climate is very cold, you could also try a heated propagating mat to place under your containers to give a little extra warmth to the plants, rather than a full propagator. Susan advises that red cabbage, purple kohl rabi, crimson radish, broccoli, kale and cabbage are among the easiest varieties to start off with. I decided to begin with brocolli, and I plan to move on to sunflower and pea shoots soon. Susan clearly details the different but simple processes required for different types of seed.
In the spirit of sharing my new knowledge, which Susan greatly encourages, I hope that my readers will be inspired by my learning process as charted here. As part of my job in a supported housing project for women and children who are homeless as a result of domestic violence, we began a gardening project with the women last year in the hopes of promoting therapy and healing, encouraging community and positive socialising, promoting education, and fostering new interests and hobbies. The project was very successful and I therefore decided to share what I have learnt from Susan’s book at my work place also, in particular to encourage the children to learn more about plants, nutrition, and where our food comes from. They were very curious about the different stages of the microgreens and were keen to learn more and get involved. I had plenty of eager helpers when it came to watering time (particularly spraying, and the greens are not the only things that got sprayed!), and a few brave tasters as well! As well as sharing my new knowledge at my workplace, I was eager to pass it on my lovely readers also. Read on to discover the easy steps from seed to microgreen!
I decided to pick brocolli as my seed as it is one of my favourite vegetables and it is supposed to be among the easiest of seeds to start off with. A full grown head of broccoli contains vitamins, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and amino acids. Brocolli is also well known for it’s high antioxidant content, particularly sulforaphane, which is said to be a powerful cancer fighting phytochemical and has led to brocolli being championed as a superfood. Microgreens contain powerfully concentrated levels of the benefits of their mature plants. Young brocolli greens therefore astonishingly contain as much as fifty times higher levels of these phytonutrients compared to the levels which you would find had they been allowed to mature in to a full plant.
I bought some organic brocolli seed and sprouted them in a jar for 3 days. You can buy special sprouting jars, but really all you need is an empty wide mouthed glass jar (whoo recycling!) and a thin pair of tights to place over the open mouth of the jar. You can secure this with a hair tie like I did, or with an elastic band. Place 2 tablespoons of seed in to the jar, and cover with water. Allow the seed to soak in the water for 6-8 hours.
After soaking, place the tights over the lid, and allow the water to drain out, while the tights keeps the seeds in. Fill the jar with water again, and pour out immediately, to rinse the seeds. Place the jar at a 45 degree angle to allow the remainder of the water to drain away. The special sprouting jars which you can buy have a support to allow them to be placed on a 45 degrees angle by themselves, or you can use a draining board like I did. Rinse and drain the seeds every morning and night for about three days. This only takes literally 1 minute each morning and night as all you have to do is pour water in to the jar and place it on an angle to drain it away. After three days, your seeds should have a little tail sprouting out of them.
When the tails are about half an inch or longer, they are ready to plant. I planted mine in my heated propagator, but you can use any type of plastic tray with draining holes. The trays that berries come in are ideal to use, as they also have a domed lid. If your tray does not have a domed lid, try to find another slightly deeper tray to fit on top of the bottom tray, or else you could use cling film to cover them. Place a thin layer of organic potting soil in the tray, loosen with your fingers and moisten thoroughly with water. Make sure that the soil is of an even depth all over the tray. Lay the seeds on top of the soil in one even layer, covering the whole tray. They should be evenly placed, but you don’t need to individually place each one. Press the seeds gently in to the soil.
Place some paper towel over the soil and moisten the towel thoroughly with a water sprayer. Cover the tray with the lid and keep somewhere with good indirect light and air flow, until the seeds have rooted. This will take 2 to 3 days. Spray the towel thoroughly with water when it dries out. You may need to do this a couple of times a day, depending on your climate.
The seeds will develop fuzzy white root hairs, which is a good sign (although it confusingly looks a bit like mould!)
When the greens are pushing up the towel, remove the towel, but leave them covered by the dome.
The soil needs to be consistently watered at this stage to nourish the roots. Place the tray in shallow water, just enough so that the water can soak up through the drainage holes to soak the soil. Do not repeat again until the soil is dry.
Once uncovered, you should be able to harvest the greens in 2-4 days. Simply cut what you want and keep the soil moist for the rest that are still growing. You may get a second, smaller crop in a few days.
When cut and dried, the greens should last refrigerated for about 5 days. They are great for adding nutrition, taste and texture to green smoothies, salads, soups or sandwiches. On that note, never eat sprouts or microgreens that smell bad, or are slimy or mouldy. If you make sure that you use clean, disinfected materials each time, you should have no problems with this and get healthy, delicious sprouts and microgreens each time.
I was really dorkily excited during the whole process of trying this for the first time! When I saw my microgreens successfully pushing up the towel, I did a little squeal of excitement! It was really exciting to learn a new skill which will provide me with such nutritious greens all year round, regardless of the (Irish!) weather! Watching the process from seed to plant is a very satisfying journey which brought me more in touch with nature (always a plus with me) and more connected to the food that I eat.
Sprouting and growing microgreens is such an easy process and something that I would love to see more people learn about. What do you think? Do you already grow your own sprouts and microgreens? Do you buy them in the shops instead? Did you think that it would involve more work, or take more time? Have you been inspired to give it a go yourself? Why not buy a pack of organic seeds and try it out! If you do, I’d love if you came back here to let me know how it went!