Fastest vegetable gardening ever! (A.k.a. microgreens.)

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Have you tried those very expensive packages of cute little nutritionally-packed microgreens to sprinkle on top of your meals? Did you think, well, this adds something fun and tasty to dinner, but how often am I going to shell out that amount of money? Occasionally, maybe (microgreens provide a great income source for farmers in the wintertime), but if you’re hooked and you want to eat these tiny bursts of flavor more often, grow your own!

All you need is a shallow container with some drainage (a repurposed strawberry or tomato plastic clamshell is great), some seed-starting mix or fine potting soil or vermiculite, and seeds ranging from beets, radishes, kale, chard, mustard, herbs – really any plant that has an edible stem and leaves. (Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other nightshade family plants are out. Do a search on the plant and “microgreens” if you’re not sure.) Wet down the planting material, put it in the container, add seeds to recommended depth, and keep watered.

You can also use a simple hydroponic system like the one in the photo (growing mustard). I bought my setup, but even on sale I’m not sure it was worth it. (It comes with a light, which you don’t really need if you have a window or another source of ambient light; microgreens don’t have the strong light requirements of plants grown to transplantable seedlings.) You can make your own by planting in vermiculite in a shallow container with holes in the bottom, and setting it into another water-filled container so the vermiculite will wick water up and the roots can grow down into the water. It’s really more a self-watering container than true hydroponics. No need for nutrient baths – the seeds themselves contain all the growth factors needed to get the plants to first true leaves, which is when you want to snip them.

Whichever growing method you choose, here’s my hint as someone who’s made the same mistake several times: grow one kind of seed at a time. Don’t buy the “microgreen seed mix” packages. The problem with growing multiple species is that some of them grow faster than others – sometimes much faster. Radishes, for example, will get huge in less time than you would believe. Arugula is delicious but takes much longer and ends up shorter. If you put them together you will have to snip the radishes down in less than a week, without damaging the poky arugula. Use separate containers, or at least separate areas in a larger container. Johnny’s has a useful chart of how fast different microgreens grow. (Radishes are faster than they say, though. SPEED RECORDS.)

Microgreens are a great way to get some edible gardening going inside at any season of the year! But especially in nasty cold rainy winter.

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By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

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