My first response to microgreens was: “Why would I spend my time growing 3-inch tall plants to eat?”
Then I thought about all of the tiny leafy green plants (beet, lettuce, kale, basil, etc.) I had eaten over the years in the process of growing transplants at home and in greenhouses. And it started to make more sense: why not plant seeds closely in a container to just grow baby plants?
Benefits: When you eat microgreens you are ingesting the cotyledons, stems, and small expanded true leaves of edible plants. Some reasons to give them a try:
High in anti-oxidants and other health-promoting substances, like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein
Can be grown year-round inside with strong natural light or inexpensive fluorescent tubes
Great for kids at home and in school- sow seeds, watch them sprout and grow for 10-14 days, and eat!
Wonderful assortment of colors, flavors, and textures
Please visit us on the afternoon of Saturday, April 29th! We will have all sorts of activities including: educational talks; workshops on plant propagation, mushroom growing, tomato grafting, and hydroponic gardening; children’s programs; plant and product sales; demos in our demo garden; and lots of Master Gardeners to answer your questions.
I’ve grown a lot of different vegetables at this point, but there’s always something new for me to try. Last fall I planted some Claytonia perfoliata, or miner’s lettuce, alongside spinach in my vegetable garden. Both of them have wintered over nicely and are being harvested now.
Claytonia is a odd-looking small edible green plant.
That specific epithet “perfoliata” refers to the way the leaf is pierced by the flower structure. Each of those leaves is about the size of a quarter, so you need a lot of them to make a meal, but you wouldn’t want to overdo it anyway because they contain oxalic acid which is toxic in large quantities. (More than you would want to consume; don’t worry.) You can use claytonia in a salad, or briefly braise or wilt it in a cooked dish. It has a nice lettuce-like, slightly sour flavor.
The plant is native to the western U.S., and gets its common name from the California Gold Rush miners who ate it for vitamin C, to avoid getting scurvy.
I’ve seen claytonia seed for sale in a number of seed catalogs. Try planting it this fall for a spring treat next year. Definitely a cool-weather plant, it will bolt in the slightest heat, so overwintering seems the best way to go. I didn’t give it any protection at all, but if you live in a particularly cold climate you could try it in a cold frame.
One project we’re embarking on this year in the Derwood Demo Garden is growing lettuce year-round (or as close as we can get). Lettuce is a perfect crop for spring or fall: quick-growing, tolerant of cool weather, useful. But it often flags, turns bitter and bolts in hot weather, and heavy frosts will kill it.
The solutions to this are:
Grow in an area that gets more sun in the spring than in the summer – in the shade of a tree is great, or use shade cloth to alter the environment;
Choose varieties that suit the season;
Keep well-watered in hot weather;
Grow under a cold frame or plastic-covered tunnel in the winter.
Our salad tables are shaded by a large maple tree, so that’s where we will grow our summer lettuce. We’ve had success growing well into July before there, but haven’t systematically planned to keep going – it should work, though. We’ll try a few in the sunnier parts of the garden to see how they do, as well. And we’ll get the cold frame out for winter.
We’re starting our spring lettuces indoors for transplant.
Summer lettuces will be started directly in the salad table in part, plus we’ll start more seedlings indoors. We’ll use succession planting to start new plants every couple of weeks. If we are lucky with the weather and our varieties, we should be able to continue this through to fall, when more cold-tolerant lettuces will go in – some in the salad tables and some in the ground to be covered by a cold frame.
You can grow just about any lettuce for spring and fall. Some are particularly cold-tolerant and good for holding over winter. Here’s the list of varieties we’re trying for summer, all of which are supposed to be heat-tolerant and bolt-resistant.
New Red Fire
There are lots of other similar varieties out there, which we’ll try in subsequent years. This is a growing market niche, for obvious reasons – it’s hot out there, and we love our summer salads. We’re keeping track of which ones do best for us. If you have had success with summer-grown lettuce varieties, leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you.
I like Erica’s post about getting some garden chores done early. And like her, I’m planting some early season cool weather vegetables seeds in the garden and getting some early weeding done. But, unlike Erica, I am putting down my drip tape (see MG 6 Drip Irrigating Your Garden) to water the bed and covering the it with row cover to provide some frost protection for those emerging spinach and kale seeds.
Extended forecasts for our region (temperature and precipitation) show a good chance of above average temperatures and below average rainfall. Of course, this could mean by a tenth of a degree or several degrees. But when comparing the cost of a few seeds to some earlier than expected fresh vegetables for the table, I’ll always plant a few seeds early.
To my surprise, my arugula wintered over and my garlic looks great. My onion sets have been ordered as have my new red and yellow raspberries and new strawberry plants. After all this is the year of small fruit and there is nothing like fresh strawberries or raspberries from the garden
I’m also finishing up the rejuvenation of my 30 year old blueberry bed and will be pruning my trellised black raspberries in the next week or so. Here are some before and after pictures.
Seeds started in the basement under florescent lights are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, kale and fennel. Toward the middle to end of March will be eggplant and peppers. And just a reminder. Fluorescent tubes start to lose some of there brightness (lumens) after about 15 to 20 percent of their life (20,000 hours). So I change my fluorescent tubes out every two years (16 hours a day x 100 days x 2 years = 3200 hours or about 16% of the tubes expected life). So if your seedlings grown under lights looked spindly and you had the tops within an inch of the lights, try changing the tubes.
2016 was the warmest year on record globally, and given the evidence of the past few weeks, 2017 could well eclipse it (we have a lot of the year to go still, of course!). But certainly we’ve been having an unusually warm February in this region, and while this is worrying, it’s also making us feel like we want to be out in our gardens. And we should be! But not necessarily doing the tasks that are usually completed in April, even if the weather is April-like.
No, it’s not time to plant all your spring crops. We could still have weeks of temperatures dipping below freezing – in fact it’s below freezing in much of our region this morning, and forecasts indicate some chilly nights next weekend as well – and while your overwintering greens are probably loving this weather, young seedlings will be much more vulnerable.
Here are some tasks that you could accomplish on spring-like February days, however:
Get the weeding done. Winter weeds are LOVING this weather, and some, like hairy bittercress, are flowering and getting close to spreading their seeds in April-like fashion. Pull them out now! Here’s a photo of hairy bittercress and its friend, purple deadnettle, in my lawn:
Do some pruning. I pruned my blueberries last weekend. February and March are excellent times to prune blueberries, but we don’t usually get to do it in short sleeves. Here’s our blueberry pruning page, and you can find information about pruning other fruits on our website as well.
Work on your soil. Our winter has been very dry, which is not good for plants in general, but does mean that soil is not heavy and waterlogged, so if you didn’t spend time this fall spreading compost and working it into your soil, you can do that now. If we do get a heavy rain, put that task off for a day or so, because working wet soil can compact it.
Work on hardscape tasks like putting in fences, trellises, elaborate support systems for those enormous kiwi vines you’re all going to be inspired to plant this year, compost bins, new paths, etc.
Start some seeds inside. It does look like our spring will come early, even if it’s not guaranteed to be here yet, so jumping the season a bit on seed-starting may pay off. By which I mean a couple of weeks, not months. If you start your tomatoes in February you will have GIANT PLANTS in April and then we are guaranteed to have chilly weather that they can’t tolerate.
And okay, go ahead and start some seeds outside. I did. I put in radish and pea seeds at the demo garden, and will probably try some in my own garden as well. Stick with cold-tolerant, quick-growing plants, and be prepared to shrug your shoulders if they succumb to frost. But they might not, and it’s only a few seeds lost if they do. Thanks to all the sun, the soil is warm enough for many cool-season seeds to germinate.
Just get out there and observe. I’ve had crocuses blooming for a while now, and also have daffodils and miniature iris as of yesterday. Trees are budding and bursting into flower and leaf weeks ahead of schedule (if there is such a thing as a schedule anymore). If you want to participate in citizen science, check out Project Budburst, which tracks plant phenology (the relationship between plant stages and seasonal changes) thanks to data provided by thousands of people like you. Just register, pick a plant or two in your yard, and keep an eye out for buds, leaves, flowers, etc., then upload your observations.