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Starting these mini veggie and herb versions is simple.
If you like indoor gardening and want living proof that good things really do come in small packages, try growing micro gardens.
Micro-gardens are seedlings of most standard vegetables and herbs. Think turnips, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, chard, lettuce, spinach, arugula, amaranth, cabbage, beets, parsley, and basil, to name a few. Because plants must be harvested when they are small, usually about 3-4 inches tall or less and have developed their first two “true” leaves, they grow better indoors than in an outdoor garden. That means anyone can grow them on the windowsill, under a kitchen counter, or with a grow light in the garage.
These delicious bites are packed with nutrition, and the intense flavor of their tiny leaves often mimics the taste of the mature plant. With basil micro-gardens, for example, you get the flavor of basil without having to grow the plant to maturity. They serve as a side dish, dress up a plate, and are a fun way to enjoy healthy eating and impress family and friends at the same time.
Greg Pryor, a professor of biology at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, discovered the joy of growing and eating micro-gardens when he was frustrated trying to find bean sprouts in grocery stores. That led him to try to grow his own, which led him to micro-gardens.
"At first we sprouted mung beans, and then I discovered that broccoli could sprout," he said. “I tried that and found that they sprouted very fast. When I was cooking with the little broccoli plants, I found that they tasted the same as the broccoli heads. I do a lot of Asian food like Thai pho, Vietnamese and things like that. A lot of Italian cuisine, a lot of French cuisine, I cook at home all the time, and I love to bring in the colors and flavors of different vegetables using microgreens as a garnish.
Pryor owns a 130 acre farm in Florence and has always been an outdoor person who loves planting gardens, keeping animals, and living off the land as much as possible. But he grows microgreens under the grow lights in his garage. He thinks anyone can do the same with a simple light setup in a house, apartment, or condo.
How to grow micro-gardens
The method Pryor recommends for growing micro-gardens is the same regardless of the location you use in your home.
To get started, you will need a small, shallow container, such as a leftover plastic takeout box or aluminum cake plate. Use the 5-inch diameter clear plastic saucers that go under the pots. You can use whatever is useful, but whatever you choose, make sure it has drainage holes or that you can add them.
Pryor recommends purchasing simple and inexpensive potting soil. You don't need to buy expensive potting soil because the plants will be ready to harvest in 10-14 days, which is not enough to take advantage of fertilizers or other additives that can drive up the price of store-bought soil. Just add a half inch of soil to the container.
The seeds you use are a personal choice based on your taste. Some simple rules that Pryor suggests following are to buy seeds in bulk because that is much more profitable, choose fast growing seeds and sow them thickly in the container so that they cover the surface of the earth. For a point of reference, the micro-gardens he grows include turnips, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, arugula, amaranth, cabbage, beets, parsley, and basil.
Thoroughly spread the seeds and soil with a spray bottle. Don't try to water the soil with even a small watering can as this will dislodge and redistribute the seeds, possibly even washing them out of the container. "When I started growing micro-gardens, I tried to use one of those nice watering cans," Pryor said. “Even the smallest ones give too much running water and that displaces the seeds or washes them. All you need is a spray bottle placed in a mild mist and running water. " After spraying the seeds and soil, gently flatten the seeds against the soil. Pryor likes to use a saucer the same size as the planting saucer, but says you can use whatever is useful.
To complete the planting process, cover the container with a lid such as an upside down saucer or aluminum foil. The goal is to prevent light from reaching the seeds. "This encourages seed germination, as if the seeds were buried, and stem lengthening," said Pryor.
Keep the lid on the saucer until the seeds germinate and grow an inch or two, which will generally take 3-5 days, depending on the type of seed and the temperature in the growing area. Just remove the lid to empty the soil several times a day to keep it moist, which will encourage the seeds to germinate.
Once the blanched seedlings reach an inch or more in height, remove the cap and leave it off. When exposed to light, the microgreens will change from a light or dark green or red to a darker color, begin to grow rapidly, fill out, and form a thick mat. Once they have two leaves on top of their little stems, they are ready for harvest.
To harvest, take a small container and some kitchen shears to your growing area. Take one hand and group a group of plants and use the other hand and scissors to cut the plants just above the soil line. It is best to do this just before you are ready to serve the dishes. You can try to store them in the refrigerator, but keep in mind that these little plants have a short shelf life, which is why you need to grow them at home to enjoy them. (They aren't available in grocery stores for a reason!)
Once you've harvested the entire saucer, toss the soil into the compost pile instead of trying to reuse it. This is why Pryor recommends inexpensive potting soil. Clean the saucer and start another crop!
Additional tips for growing micro-gardens
Should you soak the seeds? In Pryor's experience, this doesn't make a difference. On top of that, he said, it is often impractical because the seeds of some plants are like little pinheads. He thinks it might be worth taking a further step on large seeds like sunflowers. Like many things in gardening, it can be fun to try if girasper microgreens or other large-seeded microgranules appeal to you.
Sills or under lights? Pryor's experience growing up on a windowsill has not produced good results. There are several problems with windowsills. The biggest is that the light hits the plants from an angle. As a result, the plants will bend towards the light instead of growing upwards. Consequently, they tend to be lanky due to indirect light. Perhaps you could compensate for this by rotating the grow tray to try and create even vertical growth. Another problem is that window frames tend to be narrower than growing containers, creating a kind of awkward balance. If you are a cat lover whose pet likes to sit on the window, you may have an additional problem!
Can you grow them in the garden? Pryor said that he had never tried to cultivate them this way. He thinks insects would be one problem and rain that knocks down delicate little plants would be another.
How about a greenhouse? If you have one, great. But don't build a greenhouse for micro-gardens!
Should you use plant grow lights? You can, but the additional expense is not necessary. Pryor said they will grow well under a fluorescent light bulb.
Microgreens under a light
Finding a place with enough light around your home can be tricky, but a simple fluorescent light can work wonders. Here, some almost harvest-ready microgreens sit next to some freshly planted seeds still covered. (Photo: Greg Pryor)
Will the garage get too cold in the winter? That depends on where you live. If you are in a northern climate, you can place heating mats under the saucers or add a heat source. But before you get to that expense, you could also bring grow trays indoors during especially cold periods.
Should you buy seeds in bulk? Do the math, advises Pryor. He said he found 160,000 micro-garden seeds for $ 16. Compare that, he said, to going to a local grocery store and buying a packet of seeds for $ 2- $ 3. You recently found a pound of broccoli, kale, cabbage and arugula seeds for $ 16. Begin your internet search with keywords such as micro-gardens / seeds / seeds / microgreens.
How crazy and crazy can you get? If you want to experiment with seeds other than those normally grown for microgreens, just make sure the leaves of those plants are edible. Pryor had never considered growing carrots as micro-gardens, for example, until a friend informed him that they would work well. Tomato seeds, on the other hand, probably wouldn't be a good option.
Two common mistakes to avoid
1. Make sure the soil has enough water but not too much. The idea is to moisten the soil well with your lord but not saturate it. Making sure your plate has drainage holes will prevent the soil from getting too wet. If you use a saucer like one made of clay, make sure it is not in the water. The clay saucers will absorb water into the soil.
2. Not leaving enough seed. Completely cover the floor surface. The goal is to get a nice, dense sprout mat. "That's why you want to buy the seeds in bulk!" Pryor said.
Original article (in English)