Posted: Monday 3 February 2014
by Adam Pasco
It might be winter, but that doesn't mean you can't be growing your own greens indoors right now.
It might be winter, but that doesn't mean you can't be growing your own greens indoors right now. A bright, warm kitchen window sill is the perfect place to sow and grow microgreens - tasty young seedlings that are perfect for adding an extra burst of flavour to salads and winter dishes.
Of course we're all familiar with baby leaves of rocket, spinach, beetroot, watercress and other salads that offer strong flavours and textures, but microgreens are different. They're picked at a much younger stage when just the first leaves are opening. At this stage seedlings have a really intense flavour and are full of vitamins and other nutrients.
Everyone will be familiar with mustard and cress, and microgreens are a similar seedling crop. I first noticed them on my plate when dining at one of Raymond Blanc's restaurants. Selected microgreens were used to add flavour to certain dishes, and they were delicious. I hesitate to call them a garnish as they weren't just a visual final touch, but an integral part of the culinary experience.
Walking round the kitchen garden at the restaurant with head gardener Anne-Marie Owens, I was fascinated to see the polytunnel used to grow these microgreens. Dozens of seed trays contained a range of seedlings at various stages of development. It really was a mini production line, with trays at every stage of development, from freshly sown and germinating seeds through to small seedlings ready for the kitchen.
Currently, one of the major seed companies is exploring the potential of microgreens by offering kits for growing them on window sills. Of course, you could simply buy a few packets of seeds and sow them in the usual way in pots of compost, but the lovely thing about the kits is that they contain a tray with a clear lid, lots of seeds, plus sheets of capillary matting to wet and sprinkle them onto. These have the advantage of keeping seedlings clean and uncontaminated with soil or compost, so you could just snip them off with scissors and sprinkle them onto your food. An important point is that these delicate seedlings don't need cooking, and are added just before serving.
So which crops can you grow as microgreens? Well, probably just about any salads, vegetables or herbs, and it's certainly worth experimenting. If you go for the kits then there are eight different types to choose from, including wild rocket, beetroot 'Bull's Blood', watercress, garland chrysanthemum, chard and a spicy leaf mix. There's also a kit containing pea 'Twinkle' to grow tasty pea tendrils. In a warm and bright position seedlings should be ready for eating in about three weeks from sowing, but may take a little longer during winter.
Microgreens offer a great addition to the crops everyone can sow, and all from the comfort of your own kitchen. I'm sure kids will love growing them too, as results can be seen within days of sowing.
The Micro Gardener
04/02/2014 at 00:09
Thanks for the post. Not only are microgreens easy to grow but recent research has found these baby plants have higher nutrients than their mature counterparts so they are great for our health too. Happy to share how I grow them on my window sill to help others get started.
04/02/2014 at 00:20
to "harvest" crops at such a young age sounds like a huge waste of seed. I remain to be convinced, but keep an open mind. I await the comments of others.
04/02/2014 at 11:40
Recently I grew radish as a baby plant as a garnish for a Nigel Slater version of celeriac remoulade. They took far longer to grow than I had anticipated, so the lunch party came and went without the garnish I also think it is a waste of seed at todays' prices. All right for v. expensive restaurants perhaps.
04/02/2014 at 11:53
Yes you do need seeds, but if you shop around you can usually find some great bargains.
And of course you can grow your own seeds. I always leave a few coriander, rocket, mizuna, watercress plants and others to bolt, flower and set seed. Beneficial insects like hoverflies love their flowers, feeding on their pollen and nectar. By the end of the summer you'll be able to collect masses of seed ... for free!
04/02/2014 at 17:35
Good idea Adam