Szerlag: Try sprouts for winter gardening
When the North Wind blows and gray days abound I break out my sprouter, little grow light kit and a collection of seeds and do my kitchen gardening indoors. Sprouts are the easiest choices to grow inside because they can be ready to eat in four or five days, take little space or equipment (a glass jar and a cheesecloth screen) and they don’t need dirt or sun to grow. Just rinse and drain twice daily.
In addition to salads and sandwiches, I drop them into soups a minute or so before serving for added crunch. Along with mung beans, I sprout lentils and alfalfa. They’re available in bulk at health food and some grocery stores.
If you’re willing to add potting soil and possibly some lighting to your indoor garden, pea shoots and microgreens, all the rage with foodies these days, can be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks.
In a recent study at the University of Maryland, researcher and assistant professor Qin Wang, Ph.D., reported microgreens were four to 40 times more nutritious than the mature plants, depending on the variety, when harvested less than 14 days after germination at 1 to 3 inches in height.
To thrive, microgreens need about 4 hours of bright sun daily, such as found in front of a large south-facing window. I’m using a Sun Blaster Nano Dome that includes a T5 HO light, a 7-inch high dome and a 10-by-20-inch tray. Available at English Gardens, it’s good for starting any seeds indoors and no worries about proper light.
Get kids in on the project to get them interested in eating their greens. If all else fails pop sprouts into their smoothies.
Timing is key when harvesting – cut them when the first set of true leaves develop. Once harvested, store in clean glass jars in the refrigerator.
When you get into growing microgreens you’ll want to start playing with mixes. Mustards, arugula, radish, cress and basil are strong flavors. The flavors of microgreens are often more intense than their mature versions, so imagine tossing some tiny basil microgreens with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and butter in hot pasta? Yum!
In the Metro Detroit area, English Gardens (englishgardens.com) has Botanical Interest seeds for growing microgreens and sprouts available year-round. And these seed packets include complete growing instructions inside the packets.
Timely tip: Use seed starting soilless mix and pre-moisten it in a large baggie using 3 parts potting soil to 1 part water and allow it sit overnight.
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.