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Community gardens aren’t just allotments — they’re urban farms, great places to share gardening skills and crops.
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This means they aren’t quite the same as mung bean or alfalfa sprouts grown in a mason jar on your windowsill. Instead, these nutrient-packed young greens are harvested from seed sown directly into soil – either directly into a garden bed or into a container filled with potting soil. Micro-greens can be grown from any number of tasty edibles including lettuces, broccoli, beets, kale, chard, radish, cabbages, choi and more. But, stay away from plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers; their green parts don’t make for good eats! When starting a micro-greens garden, always be sure to select plants that have edible green parts.
One of the best ways to get a micro-greens harvest is to make them a part of your vegetable garden growing cycle. Generally, when we direct seed into a prepared vegetable bed, we sow more seed than we have room to grow. Seed is relatively inexpensive, while time is precious. By sowing more than we have room to grow, we plant an insurance policy that gives us greater promise at least some of those seeds will germinate and turn into the crops we desire. This also means we end up thinning out some of the sprouts to make room for the remaining crops to mature.
To begin, gently cultivate your vegetable bed soil in spring or fall when growing conditions are ideal for your selected crop. Sow seeds thickly and cover no more than about _” deep (or as per the seed packet directions). Water after seeding and keep soil consistently moist as the plants begin to grow. To thin out the seedlings, pull, pinch or use a pair of micro-tip snips, thinning out the young sprouts shortly after they emerge from the soil – about 7 days or so depending on the crop and environmental conditions.
You may find that you need to thin your crops several times as they grow. In the first thinning, you may be harvesting very young sprouts with just one pair of leaves. Later, you may need to thin again as the plants develop more leaves – known as “true leaves”. These slightly older sprouts with one or two sets of “true leaves” are true micro-greens. And, as your plants continue to grow, you may find yourself snipping out even more of the young, maturing plants, which may then provide you with a great baby greens salad. Each of these phases of early growth is edible and nutrient-rich.
If you don’t have room to grow row upon row of crops, consider a micro-garden of micro-greens by growing in a pot. Fill a wide-mouth planting container with potting soil*. Moisten the soil thoroughly and allow the pot to drain. Then, sprinkle seeds thickly across the soil. Pat firmly. Sprinkle a light layer of additional soil over the seeds, covering them no more than about _” deep (or as per the seed pack instructions). Mist gently to moisten the added soil. Avoid using heavy sprayers or watering cans, which may bury or overflow your carefully seeded container. Place your container is a warm, sunny location. Check it daily to be sure the soil is remaining evenly moist. Water only if the soil is not moist.
Within a few days of planting, your first crop of micro-greens will be ready to harvest. When harvesting container-grown micro-greens, snip out large bundles of the young plants rather than thinning the plants as you would in a garden bed. This way, you can reseed the entire micro-greens containers every week or so to keep those tasty sprouts coming all season long.
How to Use Micro-greens in the kitchen: Micro-greens should be washed and dried like any freshly harvested vegetable. If your sprouts are pulled from the ground, be sure to remove and discard any soiled roots. Once cleaned, micro-greens can be whirled to smoothies or mixed in a quick stir-fry for a bit of fresh, zesty crunch. Or best of all, serve them raw on a sandwich or tossed into a fresh salad.
*When starting from seed in a pot, I prefer to use a sterile, soilless mix for seeding any crop. Although micro-greens are harvested before many pests and diseases will attack them, using a sterile potting mixture further reduces the potential for young sprouts to succumb to pest and disease issues.