It is dark and cold. Is your green thumb languishing?
Here’s a winter garden project that will meet many needs: fresh, homegrown greens for Christmas dinner, Christmas gifts for hard-to-please people, hours of entertainment for children and adults, and a means of clearing out that box of half-opened vegetable seeds that you have never planted but meant to.
Have you considered micro-greens? Micro-greens are essentially sprouted seeds that grow only to 3 inches tall. You harvest and eat the cotyledons, which are the first two little “leaves” that appear when a seed germinates. They are tasty and can be added to everything from omelets to sandwiches to salads.
What leftover seeds do you have? Select vegetable or herb seeds that have not been treated with chemicals like fungicides. In my box of saved seeds, I have packages of lettuce, kale, spinach, beets, Swiss chard and mesclun mix. You can use peas, mung beans or wheat as well, but they take a few more days to germinate. Arugula and radishes will provide zesty sprouts.
The seeds will germinate in a warm room very rapidly. My radishes came up in 48 hours, and they were ready to eat in six days. Most of the micro-green sprouts will be ready to eat within 2-3 weeks.
You can make growing micro-greens as complex and expensive as you wish or you can do it easily and economically. All you need is a source of light — a window in winter in NCW will not provide enough light. You need a container and a means to cover the container for a few days to keep the humidity high.
You can use a soilless method or seed-starting mix. I like the soilless mix because it is not as messy. I use those green floral blocks. You can use vermiculite or coconut coir — anything that will support the seeds and provide a place for the roots to attach. The easiest medium to use is the very fine seed starting mix that is sold at garden centers. My greatest success has been with clear plastic boxes with lids that salad or small fruits are packed in. The container does not have to be more than 3 inches deep because the seed is not going to grow long enough to develop a large root system.
The seeds are planted very densely — dozens of seeds in a 3x5 container for example. You will be using up all those old seeds stored in the box in your closet!
The key to success is moisture — not too much and not too little. If the germinating seed dries out even for a few minutes it will cease to grow. Too much water will rot the seed before it has a chance to germinate.
Once the seeds have grown a few inches of stem and the cotyledon has swelled, it is time to use scissors to harvest the plants. If you harvest the entire pot of plants, you can store the unused sprouts in a container in the refrigerator for a few days. After harvesting, stir the roots out of the growing medium, discard them, and plant again.
Happy winter gardening.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured.