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How to grow MICROGREENS at home

© Mark Mathew Braunstein

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MICROGREENS:

How to Grow Tiny Leafy Vegetables

at Home – Cheaply, Cleanly, and Easily © Mark Mathew Braunstein

How to grow MICROGREENS at home © Mark Mathew Braunstein page 1 MICROGREENS : How to

This detailed article will appear in its entirety in the next printing of the book SPROUT GARDEN by Mark M. Braunstein. Meanwhile an abridged version of these instructions

appears in its 2011 current printing.

http://www.markbraunstein.org/booksproutgarden.htm

You can download this 14 page article, a 1 page mini- guide, a 7 page list of Seed

Sources, and many photos at: http://www.markbraunstein.org/growmicrogreens.htm

As we grow older, our newest foods are growing younger. Microgreens, the early stages of greens such as lettuce and broccoli, are even younger than mesclun salad greens. And while mescluns first appeared in our cuisines in the 1980s, microgreens are even newer. As the first use of the word microgreens was documented in 1998, even the word itself is fresh.

Despite nutritional claims about microgreens boasted by food writers and microgreen growers, scant documentation exists about their nutritional benefits – that's how new they are. Instead, data on the nutritional value of microgreens are often interpreted from the scientific studies that already exist about their sprout forebears. While their vitamin content and mineral availability very likely decline when compared to the powerhouse in sprouts, microgreens do excel in regards to their phyto-nutrients and chlorophyll.

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Phyto-nutrients, especially rich among the Brassica family of seeds such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale, promote health, prevent disease, and can even help cure disease, notably cancers. Chlorophyll, the green in greens, is the one substance found outside the human body that chemically most closely resembles the hemoglobin in blood inside our bodies. You can never get your fill of chlorophyll, and it is equally hard to fill up on microgreens.

Microgreens start as sprouts and then keep on growing. Some sprouts look unappetizing, but microgreens all look very appealing. Sprouts are footloose wanderers, while microgreens decide to put down some roots and settle down. Sprouts grow on thin air and thrive under the cover of darkness. Microgreens grow on soil or some substitute medium, and yearn for the light of day. Sprouts are very forgiving, but microgreens can be very demanding. One daily watering too few or many waterings too many, and your microgreens can be dead in the water.

While home gardeners can grow microgreens on trays of soil and water them from above, our method described here ditches cumbersome trays that spill soil and drip water. Instead, here you use repurposed compact food containers that you place every one or two days into shallow pools of water, so that water is absorbed from below.

This technique for home gardening is adapted from that employed by many commercial microgreen farmers who raise their crops in plastic containers that are manufactured specifically for growing seedlings. I owe my adaptation to Lauri Roberts of Farming Turtles, based in Exeter, RI. Lauri graciously guided me on a tour of her indoor microgreens farm, and showed me how to grow microgreens cheaply, cleanly, and easily.

Starting from the ground up, you will need:

CONTAINERS – pint size or half-pint size SOIL – preferably potting soil and seedling soil, but just one will do SEEDS – preferably organically grown WATER – preferably not chlorinated SUNLIGHT, WARMTH, and AIR – the usual suspects

The CONTAINER

First, an apology. I apologize to all citizens of advanced civilizations that measure with the metric system. I apologize for the archaic American use of the insufferably outdated English system of measurement, which even England has abandoned. I apologize for my obscure references to pesky unit of measurement called the pint.

For the record: 1 pint equals approximately 500 mL. But in practice, the metric equivalent of a pint container is not called 500 mL, but instead is called 500 grams, or half a kilo. Hence, 1 pint = a half kilo.

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1) Eat lots of small fruits: blueberries, cherry tomatoes, fresh figs, etc. Such small fruits (tomatoes botanically are fruits, not veggies) usually are packaged in plastic pint (500mL, half kilo) containers. Raspberries and blackberries come packaged by the half- pint (250mL, quarter kilo), which are half the depth but equally useful.

2) Save the pint and half-pint plastic containers, rather than recycle or (gasp!) discard them. You likely eat mostly or only whole foods, so you soon will accumulate an abundance of plastic containers. The crucial features of these containers are the vents on their bottoms, and the lids on their tops. If necessary, rinse and dry them, then stack and store them.

Such plastic usually is recycle number 1 (PET or PETE), a polyethylene polymer predominantly used for water and beverage bottles, collectively called drink bottles. When heated or during prolonged storage, PET can migrate into its liquid contents. Hence the plastic taste of bottled water. At moderate room temperatures and for short durations, however, PET does not affect its solid contents. Hence blueberries and cherry tomatoes do not taste of plastic.

Moist soil might be considered semi-liquid, in which case purists might wish to avoid use of plastic. While other containers with holes on their bottoms, for instance terracotta flower pots, are suitable, they obstruct your view of the wondrous rootlets, and they are heavy, bulky, and costly. Commercially-produced pint-size plastic seedling pots are relatively inexpensive, and microgreen farmers deliver to restaurants their greens growing in soil in such pots. But for you to buy seedling pots might require a separate mail order or a special trip to a gardening store. Repurposed plastic food containers are near at hand in your favorite health food store and local supermarket, effectively coming to you. And they come to you for free, so are “good for nothing.”

But wait! You can find pint-size plastic seedling pots in the produce section of many food stores after all – filled with commercially-grown broccoli microgreens (though usually called broccoli sprouts). Yet if you intended to hire someone else to be your microgreens gardener, you would not be reading this right now.

After multiple re-uses, repurposed plastic food containers do tend to fall apart, but you probably never will retain them that long. By attrition, you’ll be starting anew with a fresh batch of containers every three or four cycles. That’s because for every five or six containers that you grow, you likely will bestow one or two as gifts upon eager recipients.

Regardless how bad their eating habits, all your friends will love your microgreens. Even your microgreens that might taste unappetizing, still will look beautiful. And many people eat only with their eyes.

3) Cut off the lids of the plastic containers, and save half of those lids. These very useful lids actually are lacking from commercially-produced seedling pots, so you have another reason to repurpose plastic food containers. Designate an old pair of scissors for cutting

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off the lids, as the blades soon will become dull from this function. If your collection of containers originate from different manufacturers, one manufacturer’s lids might not snugly fit another manufacturer’s containers, so to assure matching pairs later, you might consider marking them now.

4) Place two containers together, doubled-up, one inside the other. This assures rigidity so that the soil does not shift in which will anchor the microgreens’ fragile rootlets, and protects the rootlets from being crushed where they congregate at the container bottom.

The SOIL

1) Procure fertile soil. Both potting soil and seedling mix provide ample nourishment, while seedling mix enables the rootlets to gain footing faster and deeper than does potting soil. Boosts, too, such as liquid kelp or mineral dust or backyard compost hasten growing, but are optional. If you bring indoors compost that is not fully decomposed, or for that matter any soil from outdoors, you might introduce into your kitchen little crawling critters that can hatch from or already may dwell in the soil. Such risk is minimized with the use of commercial potting soil or seedling mix.

The more fertile the soil, the shorter the growing time. Achieving the same results in six days rather than seven can be crucial for commercial growers, but need not be as great a concern for you. More importantly, well nourished greens may better nourish you too. If you intend to purchase soil by the bale, be advised that seedling mixes are sold in such quantity only during the spring “growing” season, so plan accordingly.

2) Moisten the soil. Remove any undesirable fibrous objects (UFOs) such as leaves or twigs or wood chips. Before placing the soil into the pint or half-pint containers, place it into a bucket and stir water into the soil, fully moistening it.

3) Choose between your doubled-up pint or doubled-up half-pint containers. Regardless what seeds you will plant, both containers will serve you well, but you might consider matching container depth to seedling. For root crops such as radish or beet, pint containers work better. For shallow-rooted seedlings such as lettuce and basil, half-pint containers suffice. Broccoli and all the other related Brassicas do well in either. Half-pint containers with half the depth of soil as pint containers provide you the advantage of less bulk and less weight, whereas pint containers with twice the depth of soil retain more moisture and so offer you the advantage of less frequent watering.

4) Fill the doubled-up containers with moistened soil, right up to the brim. You might consider filling the bottom half of the containers with potting soil, and the top half with seedling mix. In time, you should experiment growing with all potting soil, with all seedling mix, with different layers or proportions of both, and with different sources of either. But for a start, seedling mix is recommended.

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The SEED

Any veggie that grows into sprouts in jars will continue to grow into microgreens on soil. Beans, however, as microgreens generally turn bitter. Grains as microgreens grow equally well on open trays of soil. So here we shall confine our discussion to the botanical classification strictly named seeds.

1) Verify that your source provides untreated seeds. Mail order sources for gardening and farming seeds number in the hundreds, but only a handful offer untreated or organically-grown seeds in bulk quantities. For purposes microgreens, “untreated” and “bulk” are the winning criteria.

Gardening seeds are routinely treated with fungicides and sometimes insecticides. That poses little health risk if the seed starts small, if the plant grows big, and if the growing season stretches long. For microgreens, however, beware! (And even from untreated seeds, the plants and therefore the microgreens of nightshades are toxic. So do not seek seeds of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.)

Seeds sold specifically for growing sprouts or microgreens are untreated. But what about seeds grown for outdoor gardening? Unless the seed packet or catalog page states otherwise, you should assume the seeds have been treated. If you have any doubts, when you place your order be sure to shout on the phone or write in big block letters: UNTREATED SEEDS ONLY!

Cost is also a consideration. Small packets suffice for gardeners tending a single row all season long in their backyards, but for microgreen folks that’s enough for only a single container for a one week cycle on a windowsill. So seek bulk quantities by the kilo or pound. That levels the planting field to few sources. Though not always organically grown, their seeds will expand your repertory into a preponderance of microgreens.

For fully clickable and current listings of mail order sources of seeds for microgreens, download or printout my 7 page PDF titled SOURCES for SEEDS at:

www.markbraunstein.org/growmicrogreens.htm

This listing is the basis of the Sources chapter in the 2011 most recent printing of my book titled Sprout Garden. The PDF on the website is updated regularly, so already is more accurate than the chapter in the book. The listing includes mail order sources for microgreen seeds from among gardening seeds companies, as well as from those that specialize in sprouting seeds and in natural foods. These two latter sources offer only untreated seeds, so you need not stipulate that requirement to them.

2) Choose seeds wisely. If you would like to grow broccoli, you should consider omitting from your repertory many of the other family of Brassicas such as cauliflower or kale or cabbage. As microgreens, they are very similar. Among the Brassicas, broccoli grows quickly, tastes mild, and its seeds are widely available. Thus broccoli is a good starter

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seed for beginners. One seed that stands out from its family of Brassicas is radish, which grows more quickly and more easily than even broccoli. Among seeds other than Brassicas that are good for beginners are beet and lettuce. Probably the best tasting microgreen is basil, especially the variety called sweet basil, but because basil requires very warm temperature and its seed is mucilaginous, it is not recommended for beginners.

Most species of veggies have been bred into hundreds of cultivars. For instance, let’s examine the cultivar group Brassica oleracea, variation Italica, which in the vernacular of English language is called Italian broccoli, and which most native speakers of English know simply as broccoli. (This excludes Romanesco broccoli, Chinese broccoli, broccoli raab, and broccoflower.) The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Vegetable Laboratory (yes, Virginia, there is a Vegetable Laboratory) lists 167 varieties of broccoli commonly grown in North America, and there’s no telling how many more grow among all the other continents. Some of the more fanciful names of North American cultivars are Crusader, Excalibur, Hercules, Mercedes, Munchkin, Ninja, Pirate, and Samurai. From A to Z, the ascendant cultivar at the top on the list just happens to be appropriately named Apex, while incongruously at the bottom of the list resides Zenith.

Of three popular seed companies based in New England that offer some proportion of their seeds organically grown (OG), company A offers ten kinds of broccoli, two of them OG. The second, company B, sells four of those preceding ten, plus nine others, three of them OG. Company C offers one variety the same as A, three the same as B, plus four more unique varieties, and all eight OG. From among merely three sources within the same region, that totals 23 varieties just of good old broccoli.

Prices vary widely, depending upon the variety. Some are dirt cheap, while some are almost worth their weight in gold, literally. The same species from the same seed company can cost twice the price, or more, for organically grown compared to conventionally grown. Thus some are measured and sold by the seed count, some by the gram, some by the ounce, and a rare few are sold in bulk by the half-pound, pound, half-kilo, or kilo. For reasons of frugality, seeds intended specifically for growing as sprouts and microgreens are sure to be selected from among the lower priced varieties sold in bulk. Fair enough.

This long and perhaps circuitous discussion impinges upon our subject of microgreens with some disappointing consequences. While Companies A and C sell also broccoli seeds marketed specifically for growing as sprouts or microgreens, they do not indicate the variety, but instead label theirs simply and generically “broccoli.” No fair!

Company B, however, does not market broccoli seeds for sprouts or microgreens, and its explanation provides edifying food for thought. “The broccoli seed which we offer is not food grade and we cannot guarantee that it is fit for human consumption as sprouted seeds. Please consult your natural food store for sprouting seed.”

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But your local food store, too, does not identify its variety of broccoli, because neither does its wholesale distributor. Consequently, if you are especially fond of broccoli microgreens from seeds from one source, whether local store or a mail order, when you later replenish your supply from that same source you have scant assurance that it will be the same variety of broccoli for which you are so fond.

Solution? You can purchase only those seeds whose cultivars are clearly identified. From among the list of named cultivars of broccoli, select a small quantity of the least expensive one, and hope for the best, meaning the best flavor. If your first crop proves second-rate, simply place another order, this time for the second cheapest one. And so on. Eventually you will find an inexpensive cultivar that meets your expectations, if you live that long.

On the other hand, some gardeners may deem this entire discussion irrelevant, as they may never discern any difference among cultivars of broccoli when grown only to their incipient stage of sprouts or microgreens. Indeed, many people other than gardeners lack a keen sense of taste, as their taste buds long ago were dulled by diets of excessive sugar, salt, or hot spices. So for them, “generic brand” broccoli is broccoli enough.

3) Purchase seeds in small quantities, enough to last you only one year. Depending upon variety, handling, and storage, germination rates drop approximately ten percent per year among small seeds such as broccoli. More varieties of organically grown seeds are available now than compared to just a few years ago, so organic is certainly preferred.

Beginning in the fall, some seed companies offer web-only special sale prices on seeds remaining from last year’s crop. Such discounts can prove substantial, and can provide you an incentive to experiment with new seeds. But along with reduced prices be prepared for reduced rates of viability. As a precaution, refrigerate such seeds from the previous year’s crop.

Indeed, if you can spare the room in your fridge, refrigerate all your seeds, especially during the hot summer months. Seeds manifest life. Seeds are very precious, but also highly perishable.

4) Lay the seeds upon the soil evenly and sparsely, allowing ample “breathing” room between seeds. Some can touch each other, but none should lay one atop another, which only wastes seeds. Press them firmly into the soil, but except for large seeds such as beet and radish do not cover them with soil, otherwise a week later the succulent leaves may be encrusted with dry earth.

The smaller the seed, the greater the number of seeds that fit into a given volume, and so the smaller the measurement of seeds needed to cover a given area. For instance, if you intended to germinate, say, an avocado pit, you could fit only one single pit into a pint container. A general rule for seeds the size of broccoli is 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of

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seeds per pint (half kilo) container. For smaller seeds such as lettuce, only ½ teaspoon is needed. And larger seeds such as beet and radish may require close to 2 teaspoons (10 mL).

The WATER

1) Ponder your water. Water is a crucial component of indoor gardening whose quality often is overlooked. The home gardener who conducts experiments to compare different soils or different temperatures or different seeds seldom considers comparing different sources of water. You might analyze its composition through laboratory analysis, or simply scrutinize its appearance with your eyes and nose, but still not gain insight in regards to your water’s suitability for your crops. Whether city tap water or bottled spring water or gathered rain water or pumped up well water or piped in pond water or melted down winter snow, water quality is best judged by its results.

So conduct animal experiments, the animal being you, and do a taste test. Prepare two containers filled with same soil planted with same seeds, and grow your microgreens under identical conditions of light and darkness and warmth, but not of water. Water one with your tap water, and another with spring or rain or well or pond or snow water. After one week, the two batches of microgreens likely will look the same, but do they taste the same?

Such a taste test might provide evidence to convince you to avoid using tap water. It being the same water used to flush your toilet, it accurately can be described as toilet water. Chlorine is the predominate additive to tap water that you can detect through taste alone. If you lack other sources, then allow the chlorinated tap water to stand in an open container for a day, during which much of the chlorine will evaporate. Chlorine’s volatility accounts for the strong chlorine smell in enclosures around indoor swimming pools. That chlorine smell can be so strong as to hit you even in the locker room.

Alternatively, activated carbon filters effectively trap chlorine, and certainly are more convenient than holding your water captive in a holding cell. After prolonged use, however, some filters can host some pathogens all their own, despite the chlorine isolated and concentrated inside them.

In addition to chlorine’s toxicity, be wary also of its alkalinity. Chlorine is very alkaline, and its dilution in water in turn makes water slightly alkaline. On the pH scale of 0 to 14, (not 1 to 10!), 0 to 6 are acid, 7 is neutral, and 8 to 14 are alkaline. Water is neutral 7, while most of the greens of all sizes that we eat thrive at anywhere between 7 and slightly acidic 6.5. The additive chlorine might render water too alkaline, which might inhibit germination of seeds. If your seeds routinely show slow or poor germination, or your seedlings tend to rot, then alkaline water may be the culprit. You can purchase pH kits to test your soil’s and water’s alkalinity or acidity. And what if your test results show alkalinity? Vinegar or lemon juice are foods that are acidic, so adding very dilute amounts of either are rumored to balance your water’s alkalinity. Precisely how much is

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uncertain, and such use seems anecdotal and unproven, yet even a potential overdose surely is safe.

On the other hand, if germination and growth meet your expectations, an argument could be made for actually welcoming the chlorine in tap water, and for leaving the chlorine in. Commercial sprout growers soak seeds for ten minutes in a two percent solution of calcium hypochlorite, a bleach similar to sodium hypochlorite, which is household bleach. Such soaking inhibits the growth of pathogens on seeds, because the pathogens, not the seeds themselves, can cause food-borne illness. (The pathogens originate from the manure used to fertilize crops, when the manure comes from factory farmed animals, all whom are diseased, but who are slaughtered before they can die from their illnesses.) So it is possible that even in the very dilute form of tap water, chlorine might inhibit mold or bacteria from growing amid the moist roots of your little leafies. While we do not eat the roots of microgreens grown in soil, the proximity of potential pathogens could be cause for concern.

This hypothesis about hypos is sheer speculation that warrants further investigation. Microgreens are very new foods about which we still have much to learn, so we must put all options on the table, including on the dinner table. Meanwhile it’s safe to say that if you do resort to using unfiltered chlorinated tap water, your microgreens still should flourish. Their survival is not the question. Rather, ponder their flavor.

2) Spray the seeds with water. The spray atop the seeds adds to the moisture they soak up from the soil beneath them. Kitchen sink handheld spray nozzles potentially provide too intense a stream of water, so should be used with the faucet set to a trickle. A fine mister works best, but any spray bottle will do. A recycled spray container from a non- toxic household cleaner can be used if fully rinsed of residue. Taste the spray, to know for sure. Between crops, dismantle the spray container and allow it to dry out, else mold or bacteria can inhabit it. Everything, including mold and bacteria, wants to grow.

3) Place a piece of moistened cotton cloth atop the seeds. As the seeds lay naked atop the soil rather than buried below it, the seeds dry out very quickly. The cloth helps to retain moisture, so that you will need to spray only once a day. Choose undyed cotton cloth that is thin and smooth, such as for a bed sheet, not terry cloth such as for a bath towel. Cut to size a piece to fit into the container. Fully moisten it with water, and lay it atop the seeds.

Do not use such cloth, however, when starting mucilaginous seeds such as cress, chia, flax, and basil, else the seeds cling to the cloth above rather than to the soil below. For your first several crops, you likely will want to view the unfolding of the miracle of germination, so you may decide to dispense with the cloth. Indeed, some folks dispense with the cloth entirely, and instead accept the need to spray once or twice more daily. Those 2 or 3 sprays a day last only for 2 or 3 days, so hardly present a hardship.

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4) Cover the container with its snap-on lid. If you did not already do so when you earlier cut off the lid, you might choose to inscribe your lids and bottoms now, so that they will be easy to match up later.

5) At least once a day, lift the lid, and spray. Without the top cloth or a layer of soil atop the seeds, you’ll need to unsnap and lift the lid and spray at least twice daily. While spraying as many as three times a day may be a big bother now, this still is less bothersome than plucking off or rinsing away soil from your harvest later. Be aware that the holes in the lid provide ventilation. Ventilation prevents mold, but also allows evaporation. If the seeds look dry, then they are dry, so spray away.

6) Remove the lid altogether, when the sprouts reach the height of the lid. Just before they reach that height, you might consider unsnapping the lid and merely resting it on the container, so if the sprouts hit the ceiling they will lift up the lid and thereby provide you with a very clear sign to remove the lid altogether. In warm temperatures, broccoli hits the ceiling upon the second day, while slower grower basil will do so on the third or fourth day. Your mileage will vary.

7) Daily water by placing the container into a pool of water. Fill a basin or bowl with water approximately to half the height of the pint container. Keep the bowl in your kitchen sink, and place the container of microgreens into the bowl. Allow it to sit there for half a minute to a minute, until the soil has become thoroughly moistened. Remove the container, set it at a slight angle inside the sink, and allow it to drain for a minute or more. Replenish the water into the bowl as needed, usually after every second container. Watering a tray of six containers as pictured in the photos takes five minutes, in between which you can tend to other matters in the kitchen.

Herein is the asset of the vent holes in the bottom of the plastic container. And here too is the advantage of this method compared to using messy and cumbersome cafeteria trays. Since 1977 I have grown wheatgrass and sunflower greens, and since 1993 broccoli and an array of other Brassica microgreens, on soil on cafeteria trays, so I speak from experience. The tray method is perfect for watering from above microgreens such as wheatgrass and sunflower greens, but none others. Incidentally, buckwheat greens, also called buckwheat lettuce, are unfit for human consumption. See: Are Buckwheat Greens Toxic? by Gilles Arbour, posted as a PDF at:

http://www.markbraunstein.org/growmicrogreens.htm

Because the little leafies are so densely packed, when watered from above their stems trap water which during very warm weather can cause the stems to rot. Watered by soaking from below, the stems will not trap water and will not rot. Such rot poses your one major risk of crop loss, so this is worth repeating: Watered by soaking from below, the stems will not trap water and will not rot.

You can add liquid kelp or other nutritional boosts to the bowl of water. If you so choose, do so upon the first day of soaking. Once you’ve completed a daily cycle of soaking, some soil will remain behind in the bowl of water, especially for the first few days before

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rootlets have entwined themselves into the soil. Such accumulations of soil after many cycles of watering risk clogging the drain of your sink, so toss the remaining water outdoors, or filter it before pouring it down the drain. Sprout jar lids with fine screens provide perfect filters.

The SUNLIGHT & WARMTH & AIR

Sunlight both direct and unfiltered through glass is the ideal toward which to aspire. Full- spectrum grow lights are worthy substitutes, but second best, as no one really knows if light of wavelengths different from sunlight affects the nutritional components of microgreens. If your window sills allow only indirect sunlight, that will suffice. You simply will need more days to grow your greens, and your greens will grow longer stems in an effort to reach for the sun. Leaves tend to be tender and sweet, while stems generally are fibrous and bitter.

Conduct this taste test. Go to your fridge, and take out one large lettuce leaf. For this test, romaine lettuce is best, butterhead and looseleaf lettuces are fine, but iceberg lettuce not. Wash the leaf, if you wish. Now trim away the flexible outer leaf, and leaving in your hand the stiff central rib go ahead and eat only that outer leaf. Nice, maybe even sweet! Okay, after you’ve eaten all of the outer leaf, now eat the remaining central rib. Bland, maybe even bitter!

The outer areas of leaves generally are tender and succulent, while their stems and central ribs are fibrous and bitter. Thus our goal with microgreens is to grow large leaves, but not long stems. If to follow the sunlight in your home you must move your crop from window to window, even from room to room, then try your best to do so.

While plants in their infancy do grow somewhat faster with uninterrupted light and no darkness, such growth is a measure of quantity, not of quality. We do not know if microgreens grown under continual light provide us with the same nutrients as those whose schedule more closely resembles that of nature. But we do know that nature knows best, and therefore can deduce that nature grows best. So provide your microgreens with the light of day, but also with the darkness of night.

Warmth is critical. During the cold days and short daylight hours of winter, some greens such as broccoli that take five days to grow in summer can require two weeks to grow in winter. Some, for instance basil, will not grow at all. You can encourage basil to germinate by using a seedling heating mat or a heated cabinet, but once off the mat or out of the cabinet the basil will dig in its heels and refuse to budge an inch.

Air is something we tend to take for granted, in part because we can neither see it nor sink our teeth into it. Fresh air, too, we tend to take for granted, even when living in a city and gasping for breath. Be assured that even if you cannot provide your greens with the fresh air that they need, they nevertheless will oxygenate and clean the air that you deserve.

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The HARVEST

Congratulations! You and your tiny tender leaves have reached fruition.

1) You can taste test and harvest your crop any day along the way, but best to do so before the second set of leaves emerges at the top. Cress grows as a cluster of leaves, but on most varieties the second set is a pair of leaves, just like the first pair. The first set is called the cotyledons, the second set the true leaves. The cotyledon seedling leaves are known to contain higher levels of phyto-nutrients, and generally taste less bitter, than the second set of true leaves. If you delay your harvest until after the second set has grown, your crop will be larger and taller, but might also taste bitter and turn fibrous. To create great works of art, the artist must know not only how to begin, but also when to stop. Likewise the great gardener.

2) Husk the hulls. Hulls may cling to the leaves of some species, for instance fenugreek, beet, radish, sunflower, and some varieties of lettuce. (Hulls cling so tenaciously to spinach as to eliminate spinach from the ranks of microgreens.) If you have not already done this, then certainly just before the harvest, pick up the container, hold it tightly, turn it sideways over a tray or trash can, and give your microgreens a massage. Brush the tops of their leaves gently with your fingers, the way you might pet a thick-haired dog (or if you share your household only with vegans, your long-haired Peruvian guinea pig). Despite your intention to aim for that tray or trash can, the hulls still will go flying elsewhere, so prepare accordingly.

3) Give your crop a haircut. Delegate a pair of sharp scissors to use solely for harvesting. Garden stores sell “gardening shears,” and kitchen supply stores sell “herb snippers.” Both have blades that are marketed as razor-sharp, but they really are not as sharp as razors. If they were, they would easily cut your fingers, and you would bleed all over your greens. Not very appetizing, and definitely not very vegetarian. Such scissors are sharp, but also short.

Barber scissors, also called barber shears, are longer and better. You can slip their slender blades between seedlings, and harvest some with least disturbance to the remaining growing greens. Cut patches or rows into which the remaining greens can lean into as they grow. If you will share your little leafies with your family or friends, you owe them the courtesy of first washing your hands. For patches or rows, gather a bunch between your fingers, like a pinch, and snip at the base of the stems. When harvesting the entire works, you are limited only by the size of your hand. Once snipped and while still in your grasp, inspect the undersides of the stems for any rootlets to which soil might be clinging, and brush off that soil. Banishing soil from your harvest is a crucial final step. When finished with the scissors, wipe the blades clean before closing them shut. Wash and dry them as needed. Treat them as you would your eating utensils such as forks and spoons.

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Earlier filling the container with soil right up to its brim was in preparation for this final step, so that you can snip the stems just above their base in the soil. Be careful not to lift any soil along with greens, so that you will not need to rinse them. You especially do not want to rinse them if you will not serve and eat the greens immediately upon harvest, but instead intend to refrigerate them. Moisture, even under cool temperatures, increases the risk of rot.

4) Clean up time. After a full harvest, turn the remaining cluster of roots and soil upside down, and except for root vegetables such as beets and radish the cluster will slide right out from the plastic container. Compost or simply dump the clump outdoors, where wild animals will pick clean the clump for any remaining edibles. Between crops, commercial microgreen farmers routinely rinse their trays with dilute bleach, but as a measure against mold that is overkill. Home gardeners need only dismantle the doubled containers, then allow them to dry out, and to store them dry before refilling them with soil.

5) Protect your assets. During storage or transport, protect the fragile microgreens in a hard container, not a bag, though in a pinch a bag will do if treated gently. What you do not plan to eat immediately of course can be refrigerated. (But do not refrigerate basil, which under cool temperatures turns to mush.) The closer to freezing point you keep the setting on your fridge, the longer you can keep fresh your harvest.

Alternatively, you need not snip your crop, but can refrigerate the entire container, soil and all. Your pint container will fit right in with other pint containers that still contain their berry or cherry tomato forebears. Just place it into a plastic bag, the bottom of the container in the bottom of the bag, and the top of the bag open, to allow the greens to breathe. A day before harvest, remove the container from the fridge, strip away the bag from the container, and freshen up the greens by returning the container back into room temperature and into the light.

6) Enjoy. Ideally, or at least initially, you will eat your microgreens immediately upon harvest, and you will appreciate their flavors just as they are, unadorned by sauces and unadulterated by seasonings. Any condiment you might add to them makes a mockery of microgreens. Nor should you use your microgreens as the condiment. Some upscale restaurants adorn steak or pork with a garnish of microgreens, in essence serving an ounce of prevention atop a pound of carcinogen. Chefs garnish with microgreens more for the effect their presence adds to the printed menu than to the palate, as the culinary flavors and curative powers of microgreens are negated by the chunk of carcass. Add microgreens to a salad, and they similarly will be lost to a head of lettuce.

So no recipes are needed. Simply remember what Mama told you. “Eat your greens.” Mama Nature tells us the same. Cooking microgreens is almost sacrilegious, and renders them into mush. And if you ever do tire of eating microgreens, you sooner will tire of growing them.

How to grow MICROGREENS at home

© Mark Mathew Braunstein

page 14

Despite potential obstacles, your labors surely will reap the reward of sustenance in abundance. You do not need a green thumb to achieve fruition. Even a pink pinky will suffice. But you do need patience and persistence. Tending to your microgreens will be a joy, not a chore. Grow them knowing that you are being good to them, and thank them knowing that they will be good for you.

ABOUT the PHOTOS on the website www.markbraunstein.org/growmicrogreens.htm :

The microgreens depicted were grown under ideal conditions:

SOIL – fertile potting soil on bottom half, soft seedling soil on top half SEEDS – highly viable organic seeds from a crop harvested the previous year WATER – moistened only with good tasting well water (Planet Earth milk!) SUNLIGHT – a half day of direct sunlight through window screen rather than glass WARMTH – long daylight hours & the warmth of mid-summer AIR – fresh air oxygenated by the forest and meadow of a nature preserve

BROCCOLI depicted reached peak in 5 days, and BASIL in 7 days. But your own mileage will vary, and during cold short days of winter can more than double.

You can download this 14 page article, a 1 page mini- guide, a 7 page list of Seed Sources, and many photos at: www.markbraunstein.org/growmicrogreens.htm

This detailed article will appear in its entirety in the next printing of the book SPROUT GARDEN by Mark M. Braunstein. Meanwhile an abridged version of these instructions

appears in its 2011 current printing.

www.markbraunstein.org/booksproutgarden.htm

How to grow MICROGREENS at home © Mark Mathew Braunstein page 14 Despite potential obstacles, your

© Mark Mathew Braunstein herman[dot]melville[at]yahoo[dot]com

Mamacoke Island, CT – Ides of March, 2011