Now that the days are getting longer and each is bringing us a bit closer to spring, I’m ready to start growing something - anything! Last winter I discovered the joy and nutritional perks of growing microgreens and shoots indoor on my windowsills and under my unused grow lights. Not only are they ridiculously easy to grow, but they’re ready to harvest in a very short period of time.
The ease and quickness of this project also makes it a fun introduction to wonder of growing food for kids. The love to plant the seeds and track the rapid progress of the growth. In my experience, they also enjoy scissor harvesting (maybe too much?) and who knows, they may even eat the shoots! Miracles can happen.
Alternatively, you can also grow these plants as sprouts in large jars with clean water, but you will need to be vigilant about rinsing the sprouting seeds to prevent bacterial build-up. I prefer the easy growing of shoots, where they are sown in soil and there is no need to remember to rinse several times a day. Just plant, water, harvest and eat.
To get started, you will need seed, potting soil and a few shallow dishes, saucers, bowls, trays or whatever you can find. Even used salad containers or aluminum pie plates work great, but be sure to poke some holes through the bottom and set them on trays to allow for spill-free drainage. Add 3 to 4 centimeters of moistened potting soil to your selected containers when you’re ready to plant.
As for the seed, it’s best to buy seed that has been packed for sprout and shoot growing and several of the larger garden centers, like Halifax Seed offer a good selection of seeds. Before planting, soak the seed overnight or for at least 8 hours to hasten germination and then sow densely on the surface of the potting soil, pressing the seeds down to ensure good soil-seed contact. At this point, I like to cover the trays or bowls with a sheet of plastic wrap to lock in the moisture. Check daily to see if your seeds have germinated. Water when necessary and when you see green growth, remove the plastic.
The shoots are ready to harvest when the first set of true leaves appears. If you haven’t grown seeds before, initially you will see the cotyledon leaves unfurl after germination, but these aren’t the true leaves. The true leaves will emerge between the cotyledons. Some shoots take just a week from planting to harvest, while others, like pea shoots can take up to 4 weeks. Either way, when they are ready to harvest, use scissors to cut them just above the soil surface.
After a quick rinsing, your bounty of shoots can be added to wraps, sandwiches, salads, stir-fries and many other raw or cooked dishes. I like to start a fresh tray of shoots every few days for a non-stop supply of tender greens at their nutritional peak!
Broccoli - No need to soak the tiny seed of broccoli. Simply sow it thickly (try to cover the surface evenly) and gently push to make sure the seed is pressed into the soil. Amazingly, broccoli shoots are more healthy than full grown broccoli heads, so grow plenty and add them to salads and sandwiches.
Sunflower - Delicious, crunchy and slightly nutty tasting, sunflower shoots are one of our family’s favorite! The seeds are hard to soak - use a plate to weigh them down - and will take 8 to 12 days from seed to harvest.
Pea - A must for stir-fries and pasta, where they are cooked until just wilted, fresh pea shoots taste like spring. Plant in shallow pots or trays and expect them to take about 2 to 4 weeks to grow. We start to harvest them when they’re about 2 inches tall, and by the time we’re done with that pot, some of them have reached a height of 6 inches, but they’re still tender and delicious!
Niki Jabbour is the author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show. Find her on Facebook, twitter and at www.nikijabbour.com.