“The most important thing is the beginning, especially when dealing with anything young and tender.”

— Plato, “The Republic,” c.a. 380 B.C.E.

 

Several years ago, Jerry and I inherited a fluffy brown rabbit named Zoe when our eldest daughter went off to college.

We have a fenced backyard, and Zoe would hop happily about all day, then wait by the office door to return to her cage and enjoy her supper of alfalfa pellets.

Then one day Zoe took a walk on the wild side. Rather than wait by the office door, she dug a burrow under the office and began living there. Alfalfa pellets weren’t good enough for Zoe anymore. She waited in her burrow until the exact second my garden plants sent their tender shoots above ground, and then she would strike! Those poor, young plants never saw it coming.

Zoe has been banned from the backyard for ages, but I attribute that bunny’s uncanny Platonic wisdom for my interest in microgreens.

Microgreens can include any young vegetable, herb or edible flower leaves and stems that are harvested when the plants are about 1½ to 3 inches tall — bigger than sprouts and smaller than baby greens. It’s become quite trendy for chefs at fine restaurants to garnish soups, salads and entrees with microgreens to add color and flavor, but gardeners can grow their own greens and fancy up their food, too.

Commonly grown microgreens include amaranth, arugula, basil, beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, cilantro, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, peas, radish greens, spinach, sunflowers, wasabi and watercress.

Mixed microgreen seed packages are available. Territorial Seed Company offers a blend of arugula, Bull’s Blood beet, Red Russian kale, Purple Mizuna mustard, Cherry Belle radish and salad burnet. In fact, any salad green seed mixture would work well as microgreens, and gardeners can create their own blend.

According to the USDA, microgreens grown may contain up to 5 times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plants. They are loaded with vitamins C, E, K and beta-carotene.

Growing microgreens in my greenhouse is an enjoyable winter gardening activity. It's not a crop that can be left to its own devices, but must be consistently monitored.

Microgreens need plenty of light, low humidity, good air circulation, and a growing medium that is kept moist but not too wet. I’ve had the best success using a soil-less medium such as blended peat moss, coconut coir, vermiculite and compost. The seed tray temperature should be maintained around 70 degrees. (I use heat mats), and I try to keep the air temperature inside my greenhouse at least 50 degrees during the day.

I fill plastic seed trays with moistened growing medium about 3 inches deep, then I sprinkle seeds so they are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart. I use the back of a spoon to press the seeds into the soil, and then I lightly cover the seeds by sprinkling more growing medium on top (a sieve is helpful).

I cover the trays at night, but I take the covers off in the morning to reduce moisture buildup and the chance of mold and fungal disease. I supplement my microgreens with artificial light from 4-10 p.m. by positioning the light a few inches above the tray and making adjustments as needed when the plants emerge. Light-starved plants will look pale and leggy.

Harvest when the first set of true leaves are fully expanded. Depending on the variety, this will take 10-25 days. I snip the plant with a clean pair of clippers at the soil line, leaving the roots. Once harvested, microgreens should be refrigerated and eaten within a few days.

I love the colorful trays of microgreens during the winter and the smell of living things growing. Sometimes, I even share my microgreens with Zoe.

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/