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Eats Shoots and Leaves ... MICROGREENS are Go

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Despite years growing millions of seeds commercially when I had my little herb nursery, I still get a sense of amazement, awe and wonder at watching seeds germinate and grow. There is something immensely therapeutic and empowering about growing your own food, and that can prove difficult in a small space with no garden … like a boat or a flat. So this winter I have been playing around with MICROGREENS, the ultimate solution to gardening in a small space and a year round supply of fresh, immensely nutritious and tasty food.

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Amaranth Red Army      Perilla and Basil                      Pea Shoots after watering

Microgreens are halfway between a sprout … like beansprouts..  and baby leaf salads. They are harvested when the second set of leaves appear. Most of us have grown or eaten cress as a microgreen. They are quick to grow, taste and look fantastic and contain unbelievably high amounts of anti-oxidants, Vitamins C, E and K and beta-carotene, 25 to 40 times the amount found in the fully grown veg. The nutritional benefits are enhanced by growing them yourself and harvesting as you need them. The end of slimy bags of wilted salad leaves is nigh. There is loads of information online about growing microgreens … everyone has their own tricks and ideas … essentially, you don’t need any special equipment, though a hand sprayer is useful, apart from a sunny windowsill,

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It is possible to grow microgreens in any container, the plastic trays that soft fruit and veg are sold in in supermarkets are great … some even have a lid which makes an instant mini propagator. They can be grown on kitchen towel or compost. I also grew them on old woolly jumpers cut into squares, felt, compost and shredded paper.  However, having experimented with several different methods, I got the best results using Coconut Coir. This is a sustainable, organic product made from left over husks of coconuts. It is clean, sterile and easy to store as it comes in pellets that expand when water is added. You don't need much, 3-5cm for small seeds and 5-7cm for bigger seeds like peas.

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Coconut Coir Pellets

The other advantages of coir is that it holds moisture well, (Kitchen towel dries out very quickly), and provides an excellent medium for root growth. It is possible to make several sowings in one batch of coir. These pictures show Basil microgreens sown on the same day on coir and paper and the growth is better on coir. They are a week old. I also use recycled paper seed trays; cheap, biodegradable, last for several sowings and also retain moisture.

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Growing on paper, felt or coir is essentially growing hydroponically; there are no nutrients available to the seedling, though a seed contains enough nutrients inside to get the plants started. Some people recommend feeding microgreens for better taste and leaf production. An organic, sustainable feed like Liquid Seaweed or Kelp can be diluted and added to your sprayer every couple of days, though I don’t feed mine.

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You can grow a huge variety of herbs, salads and veg as microgreens. I started off with popcorn kernels and a bag of dried peas. It is worth using dedicated microgreen seeds though, as these are not treated with fungicides like many seeds are. I have grown pea shoots, sunflower seeds, radish, kale, broccoli, amaranth, perrilla, coriander, fenugreek, mung beans, basil, chard … my favorites are definitely pea shoots and sunflowers … oh and amaranth … and radish ….. and broccoli … They all taste amazing and useful for getting kids to eats cabbage or if you are on a paleo diet kick.

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     Pea shoots                                  Sunflowers                    Red Radish

Big seeds, like peas and sunflowers benefit from being soaked in water for a few hours before sowing, then just sprinkle thickly over the surface of the moist coir and press the seeds in gently. Germination is better if you keep the seeds in the dark and moist till they sprout and it is best to cover bigger seeds like peas, with a thin layer of compost.  I tried covering with damp newspaper and kitchen towel as some growers suggest, but it was fiddly, so just put my trays in a propagator or plastic bag in the airing cupboard. Once the seeds sprout, bring them out of their bag, or open the vents on the propagator and place on a sunny windowsill, though hours of direct summer sun might be too much. Keep them moist by spraying a couple of times a day. Using a watering can disturbs the seeds.  The first set of leaves soon appears (cotyledon leaves) and you can harvest at this stage or wait for the second set of true leaves. Then just snip off with scissors, just above the coir, rinse and eat. They can be eaten raw, like salad or added to stir frys, soups, stews whatever.

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Microgreens can be grown year round indoors, and outside in summer … be warned though … pigeons and small rodents are magnetically drawn to bigger seeds like peas and sunflower seeds … best kept inside or protected in a ventilated propagator. The only real problem you may have is mould due to overwatering or using dirty containers.. always wash thoroughly and disinfect if possible before starting, especially if using old seed trays.

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Alchemy Plants, my other business, has put together some little kits to get you started … only available on the towpath at the moment, but mail order coming soon. The seeds are all certified untreated and from DEFRA registered suppliers. You can buy everything from just one pack of broccoli seeds (easy, quick and tasty) or go for my ultimate kit with a selection of seeds, coir compost pellets, robust propagator, biodegradable seed trays and hand sprayer.

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Also available are a huge range of herb seeds, including some fun seed selections to Grow Your Own Gin, Absinthe, Apothecary and Magic Spells and New Baby Leaf Salad Seed Mixes. For the cost of one bag of slimy baby leaves from a supermarket you can have a fresh supply of leaves all summer.


Time to get growing



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