If you’ve got the gardening itch and it’s too early to scratch it, try growing some microgreens. This is just like starting seeds early for transplanting, except that you get to eat your harvest within a few weeks. You won’t have to wait until the soil in your garden looks like tillable earth rather than quicksand.
In fact, you don’t need a garden at all. A sunny window or a table with a set of grow-lights could be the site of this adventure. As the weather moderates, a balcony, a terrace or even a fire escape might do.
Microgreens are little green edible plants that are snipped when they’re an inch or two high. Maybe you’ve seen them garnishing dishes in restaurants and know how expensive they are to buy. But home-grown, they’re a great way to put just-picked, nutritious green matter in your diet. If you’ve ever thinned a row of spinach, beets or turnips, then washed and eaten the tiny seedlings you pulled, you know how fresh and concentrated their flavors are. Tuck them into sandwiches or sprinkle them over scrambled eggs, potato salad or sliced fruit. Anything’s better with a little greenery this time of year.
Lots of crops make good microgreens, from salad leaves (endive and cress, for example) to brassicas (broccoli and cabbage). Spicy ones such as arugula and watercress will be as peppery as their grown-up counterparts. Basil and chervil lend herbal notes. Red-leafed plants such as amaranth and orach add bright color. You can see why their fans end up with rows of flats, so they can experiment with different combinations. Johnny’s Selected Seeds lists 45 varieties specifically for microgreens. Burpee sells a microgreens mix in a smaller packet if you want to try one flat first.
Any seed-starting flat can be a bed for a micro-crop as long as it holds an inch and a half of good-quality seed-starting mix and has a container beneath where water can drain. The soil is pressed flat, scattered with the seeds and watered with a fine spray. You can either cover the seeds with a light dusting of your mix or take a tip from Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson and lay bleach-free paper towels over them instead, removing those after germination occurs. This and other good tips can be found in their book, “Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens.” A pair of sharp scissors is their harvest tool of choice.
Improbably, the couple started their own microgreens “farm” on a cabin porch in Big Sur, Calif., and they soon had a real business, supplying local chefs. They are now doing the same thing in a substantial greenhouse, at True Leaf Microgreens in Phoenixville, Pa. Few farming ventures are more profitable from a such a modest investment in space and equipment. We even find we can take two cuts off one flat, or flip the used soil over and re-sow, to save on mix. Think small! This is something anyone could try. And at the very least, microgreens will give you a delightful foretaste of spring.
Damrosch's latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook.”
Seeds grow happily under basic four-foot shop lights, but make sure the lamps can be lowered and raised to keep the bulbs four to six inches above the seedlings as they grow. Seeds need good seed-starting mix in which to grow and will develop well in cheap foam cups set in plastic trays. Make a drainage hole in the cups with a pencil.
— Adrian Higgins