Quick, cheap and easy, you don’t need to labour away in the veggie patch to put fresh home-grown greens on your plate.
Grow your own sprouts and microgreens
The ability to grow tasty, nutrient-rich food is available to everyone – even those without a garden. Sprouts and microgreens are super-quick to grow and are perfect for the time-poor, space-limited gardener.
With the trend towards dwellings that have little or no garden, the enormously popular “grow your own” movement may feel somewhat difficult to join. However, all you need is a little sunshine, some seeds and a place indoors to plant them.
Growing and harvesting crops inside may feel somewhat strange to those of us who were brought up on getting our hands dirty tilling soil, planting, feeding, watering, and keeping away bugs and disease.
As Neil from The Young Ones once said, “We sow the seed, nature grows the seed and then we eat the seed”. As a devotee of mung beans, he could have added, “If you’re growing sprouts and microgreens, it’s really, really fast too!”.
The difference between sprouts and microgreens is time. Sprouts are germinated seeds that have produced their first root and shoot and are deliciously crunchy. Let them develop for another few weeks and those roots spread and shoots lengthen to develop a dense canopy of small leaves. These are microgreens.
Sprouts are the quickest crop you will ever grow, with microgreens not far behind – and you don’t need to be a green thumb to achieve success. This is low tech gardening.
You can germinate sprouts practically anywhere, even in low light and without any potting mix. Some of the more popular sprouting plants include beans, peas, chia, alfalfa and lentils. Just be sure to purchase seeds from a PIRSA-accredited seed sprout producer.
A large glass jar is perfect for raising sprouts. Place a heaped tablespoon of your chosen seed into the jar and add about five centimetres of warm water to encourage germination. Leave overnight. Place a piece of gauze or cloth securely over the jar top. Tip out the water, leaving the moist seeds behind. Pour in more water, swish the seeds around then drain away. Repeat the water and draining every day until the new sprouts have appeared – it won’t take long. You can store sprouts in the refrigerator for about a week, if they’re not eaten beforehand.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy sprouts. Freshly toasted sourdough, thickly spread with smooth peanut butter and topped with a generous handful of mung bean sprouts, is just one favourite.
Microgreens are best grown in a flat, well drained container. Your local garden centre will have microgreen raisers, or you can use seedling trays. Even supermarket strawberry punnets work well. Seeds of most salad greens, many vegetables and herbs can be grown this way, including basil, beets, cabbage, chard, lettuce, mustard, parsley, peas, radishes and spinach and many more.
Fill the container with a premium potting mix, sprinkle over the seed, top with a thin potting mix layer and lightly water in using a spray bottle – these fine droplets won’t wash away any seeds.
Unlike sprouts, microgreens need a well-lit spot; windowsills or kitchen benches are ideal. Emerging leaves need sunlight to photosynthesise and green up. Once the seeds have sprouted, they have used up their internally-stored energy and need supplementary feeding to continue to grow. Mixing a seaweed tonic such as Seasol or Seamungus, plus a liquid fertiliser such Thrive Natural Vegie and Herb, then applying every week will keep those nutrient levels riding high. Keep the soil damp as the delicate roots can quickly rot off if the soil is too wet or die back if too dry.
Microgreens are ready once the leaves are formed, usually around two to four weeks after sowing, depending on the variety. To harvest, simply grab a pair of scissors and snip the plant off near the base.
Flavours range from mild to quite intense, depending on the variety. Alfalfa has a mild taste while beet adds colour and an earthy sweetness. Peas are fresh and sweet, mung beans produce thick, juicy sprouts and are a stir fry staple, sunflowers have a rich, nutty taste and mustard gives any dish a spicy kick.
To ensure a continuous supply of sprouts and microgreens, keep up a regular rotation of sowing and growing. This also gives you a chance to try out new varieties, plus it doesn’t take up much room, or time and is cheap and easy to do.
Sprouts and microgreens are the ultimate “fast food”. Packed with vitamins, minerals, flavour, colour, and texture, they add a special zing to our diet. Use as a garnish, add to salads or top up your roll, there are plenty of yummy ways to include delicious sprouts and microgreens into your cuisine.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of SALIFE Gardens and Outdoor Living magazine.
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