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Grow your own tasty microgreens

By Susan Smith-Durisek
Lexington Herald-Leader

On the growth continuum between seeds and mature plants, microgreens lie somewhere on the “newly arrived” side, between sprouts and baby vegetables. These teensiest of seedlings pack a surprisingly nutrient-rich flavor punch.

They’re also a quick and easy way to garden. Just plant them in flats by a sunny window; in a little more than two weeks they’re ready.

Their cheery colors and concentrated flavors make them an eye-catching garnish and tangy topping for salads and soups.

Many vegetables and herbs work well as microgreens, including amaranth, mustard, kale, carrot, sweet peas, basil, cilantro and parsley. These little seedlings are highly perishable once harvested, but if grown at home, they are simple to snip and enjoy fresh at a moment’s notice.

Using Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson’s reference book “Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens” (Gibbs Smith, $24.99), I gave tried growing microgreens this month, with great success.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

• I bought three Jiffy Seed Starter kits, complete with trays of 50 peat pots, a plastic base tray and a clear dome; each tray measures about 16 by 10 inches, and about 2 1/2 inches deep. A 10-quart bag of Burpee’s organic seed starting mix made from coir, or coconut husk fiber, was enough to fill the trays. My total expense was about $20.

• Clean, sterile supplies will help avoid introducing contaminants and diseases that can infect fragile seedlings.

• Decide which types of seed to grow. My favorites are beets, because the stems are a bright red and they have an earthy taste; cilantro and basil, because of the surprisingly intense flavor of the microgreens; and pak choi, or Chinese cabbage, for the heart-shaped cotyledon leaves. Do not use seeds that have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. I chose an assortment of mostly organic varieties, which added up to about $15.

• Fill the trays with the starter mix, then lightly tamp it down and level it off. Sprinkle seeds close together, depending how densely you want your microgreens to grow. Ignore the packet directions for plant spacing because your plants will get nowhere near fully mature.

• Cover the seeds with a layer of of paper towel to aid in moisture retention for germinating seeds, then water the starter mix and seeds through the paper until damp but well-drained. Cover the tray with the plastic dome lid and place it in a sunny, warm window. In a few days, you’ll see the greens begin to peek out. Meanwhile, keep the soil and paper towels damp.

• Once the sprouts are an inch tall, gently remove the paper towels and lids. Keep watering, but sprinkle gently so you don’t knock over the microgreens.

• The first true leaves will emerge a few days after an initial pair of seed leaves. That means it’s time to harvest your micro crop. Gather them just before you want to use them by snipping off the stems close to the soil.

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