Of Bulbs And Microgreens

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Indoor Gardening, Edible And Ornamental

I love fall, and winter comes a close second most of the time, especially when I can still get out and putter around in the garden. When the beds get saturated and it’s unwise (and unkind) to trample the fragile soil, it’s fun to be able to garden-putter indoors instead. I love to grow indoor bulbs, from amaryllis and narcissus to crocus and snowdrops. Those that need warmth stay indoors, while those that need cooling (species tulips, crocus, tiny species narcissus) are potted up and tucked outside to chill.

This year, I’m growing some of my amaryllis in wide, sloping-sided glass bowls from Ikea. Planted in a mix of potting soil and coconut coir, the bulbs stand tall even when they get top-heavy with bloom. Amaryllis bulbs like their tops to be above ground, so I top them with an airy layer of dried sphagnum moss. When gifting time arrives, I stick in a few sprigs of cedar and fir, add a fat ribbon, and the result is pretty swell.

Microgreens Boast Bold Flavors and Big Nutrients

I aim to have something fresh at every meal, whether fruit or vegetables, but winter always makes me crave super-fresh foods. Though there’s nothing fresher than veggie sprouts, even carefully homegrown sprouts can harbor baddie bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Fortunately, microgreens easily replace sprouts on the menu, combining truly remarkable nutritional benefits with their full-flavored crunch. Indeed, some microgreens, including red cabbage, cilantro, and radishes, boast between 4 and 40 times more nutrients than when full grown.

What’s the difference? Sprouts are simply that; seeds germinated in water, often in the dark, eaten roots and all. Microgreens are grown in soil and sunlight, so they have far more flavor, color, and nutrients than infant sprouts. Like any seedlings, microgreens need good air circulation as well, which also helps reduce potential pathogens. Good ones to start with are cilantro, dill, broccoli, kale, any Asian greens, radish, mustard, basil and fennel. Chives, leeks, onions, shallots and garlic all make intensely flavorful microgreens to harvest when 3-4 inches tall.

Microgreens Anywhere

Growing microgreens at home is pretty much like growing any garden crop from seed, with a few change-ups. As usual, microgreens are raised in planting soil placed in shallow containers or flats, under grow lights. Seed is spaced to allow growing room for the younglings, which are typically harvested after the first set of true leaves appear. This may take a couple of weeks, though timing differs with each seed type. To harvest, snip baby plants off just above the soil, rinse, gently spin dry and enjoy in sandwiches, salads, and smoothies or as a garnish.

When starting seeds of any kind, cleanliness is important, both for plant and human health. Instead of using old garden flats, I’ve been using well-washed re-purposed clear plastic salad boxes, though you can also use those flimsy aluminum pie tins from fruit or pot pies. As always, poke a generous number of drainage holes along the bottom and sides of your growing containers to allow air to reach plant roots. Similarly, use organic (untreated) seeds and a reputable brand of organically certified seed starting potting soil. You’ll also need a sunny windowsill or simple fluorescent grow lights and a small oscillating fan to boost air circulation.

Give Them Light And Air

To get started, fill containers with an inch of seed starting soil, tamped down gently to make an even seed bed. Scatter seeds an inch or more apart, using a different container for each seed type. Barely cover seed with soil, covering with a humidity dome (I use the salad box tops, with a few holes poked in) or damp cheesecloth (really old tee shirts work beautifully) until seeds germinate, spraying with water daily. When sprouts appear, remove the covering and continue gentle daily watering until the first set of true leaves mark your babies as harvest ready.

You can find a lot of specialty microgreen blends online, all of which are designed to mature at the same time, but by keeping notes about germination rates, you can make your own mixtures. Most mixes combine herbs and vegetables, along with a few fast-growing grains like buckwheat and popcorn. Lettuces are typically too fragile for microgreen blends, though some winter-hardy types can be used. Boost the colors and textures in your micro mixture with vivid varieties like Easter Egg radishes, Rainbow carrots, and Bright Lights chard.

Microgreens In The Kitchen

The obvious place to use these little critters is in salads; toss chopped apples, shredded kale and napa cabbage, and slivered green onions with radish and cilantro microgreens for a very spunky salad. You can also stuff wraps or pita bread halves with chunks of smoked salmon, fresh goat cheese, spicy salad peppers, and crunchy microgreens, or garnish tomato soup with a handful of parsley and chive microgreens….

Bright with color and lively with fresh flavors, this crunchy, textured salad is a midwinter delight. Vary it by using different microgreen combinations, such as basil and celery or dill and golden beet.

Winter Crunch Salad

4 cups thinly sliced Romaine lettuce
2 cups thinly sliced Tuscan Black kale
1 cup coarsely grated red cabbage
1 coarsely grated sweet carrot
4 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
20 snowpeas, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/3 cup Winter Lime dressing (see below)
1 cup microgreens
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds

Combine first six ingredients in a serving bowl and toss with dressing. Top with microgreens and pomegranate seeds and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

Winter Lime Dressing

2-3 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients (adding lemon juice to taste, starting with 2 teaspoons) and shake well to emulsify. Makes about 1/3 cup. Use fresh or refrigerate in a tightly sealed glass container for up to 3 days.

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