Part 3 of Sowing, Growing, Reaping, and Eating
How to grow MICROGREENS at home
– cheaply, cleanly, and easily –
by Mark Mathew Braunstein
excerpted from the unedited
"raw" manuscript of
Two main types of vessels are used for growing microgreens: containers and trays. For TRAY GARDENING, please consult the book or eBook of Microgreens Garden, available from your bookseller. This website is devoted solely to CONTAINER GARDENING.
Congratulations! You and your tiny tender leaves are on the path of fruition.
1) SAMPLE and TASTE your CROP almost EVERY DAY
To create masterworks of art, artists must know not only how to begin, but also when to stop. Likewise for master gardeners and their microgreen gardens.
Sample your crops every day along their stages upon life’s way. And take notes. And note your notes. You likely will find peak succulence is reached before the second set of leaves emerges. Cress grows as a cluster of leaves, beans as shoots, and grains as blades, but for most garden vegetables the second set of leaves is a pair, as is the first set. The first pair is called the cotyledons or seed leaves, the second pair the true leaves.
All seeds hold a reserve of nutrients intended for the infant sprout and seedling. This lunchbox is called the cotyledon, hence the first seed leaves are also called the cotyledon leaves. Most cotyledon leaves look identical regardless of species, and especially among the many species of the vast family of Brassicas. Upon unfurling their second set of leaves, veggies begin to display their distinct and true selves, hence the name true leaves.
Generally (which means, with many exceptions), most microgreens taste sweeter or more succulent when grown only to the cotyledon stage. The cotyledon leaves also are known to contain higher levels of phyto-nutrients. If you delay your harvest until after the second set has fully developed, your crop will be larger and taller, but likely slightly bitter and fibrous. Some microgreens taste better at the true leaf stage because they taste milder, as in the case of mustards, or less bitter, as in the case of most lettuces. A few others taste the same at both stages, but at true leaf stage become more fibrous and lose the melt-in-your-mouth feature of the seed leaf stage. Fragility renders the seed leaf stage less marketable for packing and shipping, which is why most commercial microgreens are grown to true leaf stage. Lettuce is especially fragile at both stages, which is why you seldom see lettuce microgreens in the marketplace.
The true leaf stage also packs more weight and fills more volume than at seed leaf stage. The competition of the marketplace dictates weight and volume over delicacy and succulence. You the home gardener need not abide by any such rules. You have free choice, and need compete only against your own previous achievements.
To sum up: the best rule here is to follow few rules, and with every day take samples, and with every sample take notes.
2) HUSK the HULLS
Some hulls may cling to the leaves of some species, for instance fennel, fenugreek, beet, chard, cilantro, radish, sunflower, and some varieties of lettuce. Hulls cling so tenaciously to early spinach as to eliminate spinach from the ranks of microgreens. Indeed, if spinach appears on someone’s list of microgreens, he must be growing his on the moon.
Likewise for hemp, in Canada and Europe its hulls also cling stubbornly to its seed leaves. In the United States, the Federal government additionally clings stubbornly to its mistaken and obsolete notions about hemp, and bans the importation of viable hemp seeds. Yet an American celebrity within the seldom credentialed field of vegan nutrition advocates that her followers sprout hemp seeds. Hers is not the voice of experience, but only of pipe dreams.
Time now to shake things up. Before the harvest, lift up the container or tray, hold it firmly, turn it sideways nearly vertically over a tray or trash can or sink, and give your microgreens a massage. Brush the tops of their leaves gently with your fingers, the way you might pet a thick-haired Alaskan malamute dog or a long-haired Peruvian guinea pig. Despite your best intentions for the hulls to land where you hope, expect them to go flying elsewhere too, so prepare accordingly.
Some hulls still will cling. If they are soft, such as on fennel, fenugreek, lettuce and radish, just go ahead and eat them along with the leaves. Those hulls are palatable and add a healthy dose of dietary fiber. But if they hard, such as on sunflower, cilantro, beet and chard, you do need to remove them, even if one by one. They are much easier to spot and to remove if you do so before harvest, while the microgreen is still firmly rooted in the soil. So do not procrastinate. Do it now!
3) TRIM YOUR CROP
A week or two earlier, when you filled the container or tray with soil right up to its brim, you were preparing for this final step of snipping the stems just above their base in the soil.
Delegate a pair of sharp scissors to use solely for harvesting. Scissors warrant a detailed discussion to ensure a clean cut of the stem if you refrigerate them rather than eat them upon harvest. A clean cut increases the longevity of your greens by guarding against rot or bacterial growth that might form upon the larger surface of a jagged laceration.
Gardening shears, sold in gardening stores, and herb snippers, sold in kitchen supply stores, generally have long grips but short blades. On the plus side, some gardening shears have blades that disassemble for easy and effective cleaning.
Barber scissors (barber shears) sold in pharmacies and hair salon stores have thin blades that work well for selective piecemeal harvests. But they can be relatively expensive, and pharmacies generally stock scissors only with short blades.
For a wider selection, seek scissors in an office supply store. There you are sure to find more affordable scissors with long blades, and some with claims of anti-microbial properties. Scissors constructed all of steel are easy to clean, whereas those with plastic-coated grips can be bothersome to clean, especially if the plastic reaches to the joints.
To harvest piecemeal, cut patches or rows into which the remaining greens can lean into as they grow. Snip at the base of the stems, and inspect the undersides of the stems for clinging soil.
If you allow the remaining greens to grow for more than another week, be vigilant for mold that might develop among and on the stubble. To prevent or remove the mold, you can strip the stubble and lay bare the soil. Alternatively, interpret the first sign of mold as a wakeup call that it is time to harvest the remaining crop.
When finished with the scissors, wipe clean the blades, and wash and dry them with the same care you would accord your forks and spoons.
Do not rinse your harvest, unless you must wash off errant soil. The techniques of bottom watering that you will learn in the chapter devoted to Container Gardening and of side watering in the chapter on Tray Gardening should prevent any soil from splashing up onto the stems.
You especially do not want to rinse if you will serve the greens later, and so intend to refrigerate them now. Moisture, even under cool temperatures, increases the risk of rot. If you nevertheless must rinse your microgreens before storage, then dry them upon a smooth towel or in a salad spinner. Spinning unfortunately adds not only one extra step to your workflow, but also one extra utensil in your kitchen to clean and to wash and to dry.
4) optional: The SECOND WAVE
Seeds of any one plant species begin germination across a broad time span. Some of the seeds inevitably are late bloomers, taking a week more or longer, in rare cases even a year more. Such sluggish seeds serve as life insurance against the catastrophe of a late spring freeze or a summer swarm of locusts or an early fall flood. Thus, if an entire crop were consumed or destroyed before it could “go to seed,” this would not spell doom for the species. The seeds that did not sprout this spring instead would germinate next spring, and though the species might not flourish neither would it perish.
So if you are patient, you can tend to your newly shorn patch of earth in anticipation of a second wave of late bloomers. For most varieties, the second crop will be meager. But for some, notably radish, beet, basil, marjoram, arugula, and sunflower, the second wave can be substantial and well worth your wait.
Generally (again which means, with many exceptions), the larger the size of the seed, the larger the yield of its second wave. Thus sunflowers produce many more waves than others. Radish is a Brassica whose seeds are larger than most other Brassicas, and radish produces a moderate second wave, while most other Brassicas except for the Asian mizuna next to none. Most mucilaginous (sticky when wet) seeds, though tiny, produce respectable second waves, in part because the stiff film they form atop the surface of the soil retards the germination of the seeds below that surface. Basil tops the list of mucilaginous seeds with worthy second waves, which compensates for the greater expense of its seeds.
Along with exercising patience, you must be vigilant for mold that may develop on the stumps of the first harvest. Therefore, as not to harvest any potential mold, clip the first wave very low down the stem, and then the second wave very high up the stem. Leaves anyhow taste better than stems, especially stems of the second wave.
For more info about REAPING, please Get the Book, where you will find further discussion about:
5) DUMP the CLUMP
6) CLEANUP & Dry Out
7) CLEANUP & Scrap Off
8) PROTECT YOUR ASSETS
9) The ETERNAL RETURN
10) CELEBRATE YOUR HARVEST
Proceed to EATING or to SEEDS