The Return of Microgreens
Back in the 1980s the trend for microgreens emerged as a new fine dining ingredient. Many dismissed it as a new fad, but the 21st century has seen a resurgence of interest in these tiny culinary delights.
For those who don't remember the 1980s, microgreens are the shoots of salad vegetables such as arugula, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard and beetroot, which are picked and served just after the first leaves have developed. The average crop-time for most microgreens is 10-14 days from seeding to harvest.
Praised for their freshness, they are said to contain high nutritional content, and they add flavor, texture and a great visual dynamic to dishes. Nowadays they are most commonly used to garnish salads, soups, sandwiches and plates.
Grow Your Own Microgreens
The good news for gardeners is that while microgreens are a fine dining treat and rather expensive, they are actually very easy to grow yourself.
You can grow any salad green or herb as a microgeen. You can either buy pre-packaged organic microgreen seed mixes, or simply get a mesclun seed mix and grow them as microgreens. You can choose from a wide variety, in addition to those mentioned above, such as kale, endive, basil, cabbage, peas, spinach, radish greens, mizuna, beet greens and the old favorite watercress.
They can be grown either in an outside garden bed or even inside on a sunny window sill. As you are harvesting them young, they will not need a lot of room, so scatter seeds about one eighth to one quarter of an inch apart. Then cover with an eighth of an inch of soil and water gently. For best results be sure to use an organic potting mix. It is a good idea to add in some organic fertilizer before planting the seeds as well.
The seeds will require at least four hours of sunlight each day. If you're growing them indoors, a south facing window sill is best for maximum exposure to sunlight. Diseases and pests should not be a problem, as the seedlings will be growing for such a short period of time before you harvest them.
Harvesting Your Microgreens
The optimum time to harvest microgreens is after the first set of true leaves has grown. Experienced gardeners will be familiar with the phenomenon of seed leaves which appear first, so the second set of visible leaves are the first "true" leaves. Seed leaves don't actually resemble the true leaves. The true leaves should develop about 10 to 14 days after planting. To harvest, use a pair of scissors to snip the stem at soil level.
Unfortunately, you cannot then use what is left of the plant for a further harvest as they have had such a short time to develop. However, the old roots can be left in the ground or seed tray as nutritious organic matter and the soil used for replanting more seeds.
Growing and harvesting microgreens is so fast and simple that virtually any level of gardener should be able to do it.