With nothing but warm weather ahead of us at this time of year, my thoughts turn to staying in the shade. I purposely try to keep the busiest seasons in my garden to early spring and fall, so that once the weather starts to get hot, I can sit on the porch and watch everything grow from my cooler perspective. If I still feel the need to get my hands in the dirt, I like to bring my gardening projects inside, where I can grow sprouts and microgreens.
To get started, gather a shallow tray, some potting soil and seeds. For the tray, I look for a shallow container that can hold soil, and fi ts in an out-of-the-way spot on a side table or countertop, where there is still some light. There are specially made seed-starting trays and full microgreens growing kits available, but in the homesteader spirit of resourcefulness, I like to fi nd what is needed at a local store, or already in existence in my own kitchen. A plastic or Styrofoam takeout box can be opened up, laid fl at and made into a perfectly serviceable growing tray. Old Tupperware with missing lids will do the trick too. Even compostable to-go boxes can be used. The trick is to not over-water the seeds so that it all melts into a disintegrating mess on the countertop�the soil needs to stay just moist, not wet.
The next step is to fi nd some decent, lightweight potting soil. The overall best seed- starting soil mix I�ve found is called MetroMix, and it can be found at Harold�s Nursery at 1135 Press Street, just off St. Claude in the Bywater. If that isn�t an option, any lightweight soil mix with vermiculite or perlite (those airy, gray, pebbly- looking things) will work. Vermiculite helps keep soil moist without bogging it down. Add the chosen soil medium to the tray, gently shake it level, then add just enough water to moisten. Adding water to the soil before sowing the seeds helps get moisture to the seeds without washing them away. I like to buy seeds online. Peaceful Valley farm supply (groworganic.com) is a good source for bulk seeds because you can buy them by the ounce, or pound. Also try Eden Brothers (edenbrothers. com) or Baker
Creek Seeds (rareseeds.com). Or, stop by the New Orleans Food and Farm Network offi ce on Banks Street in Mid-City. The nonprofi t has a supply of donated seeds that they give away free to gardeners in New Orleans.
It isn�t necessary to select seeds that specifi cally say �microgreens,� because many edibles produce tasty, healthy shoots. Beet and radish seeds are commonly grown for micro- greens, but try pea shoots, amaranth, or the whole brassica clan: purple cabbage, broccoli, red Russian kale. I like to experiment with herb microgreens too, like basil and cilantro. Cilantro is slow to germinate, but once it does sprout, the seedlings sometimes do well enough to grow back after being shorn just above the soil.
Once the seeds are selected, you will want to scatter them over the prepared, moistened tray of soil. Sow the seeds much thicker than if you were raising them to maturity. You want a carpet of greens in your tray, not orderly rows with space between. Once enough seeds are scattered over the soil, press down gently with the palm of your hand to establish good contact between the seeds and moistened soil. Cover seeds with 1/4� inch of loose potting soil and sprinkle or spray with water, then place the tray in any spot in your house with some sunlight (it can be indirect).
For the next few days, make sure the soil stays moist, but not wet. Spraying the surface of the soil with a spray bottle of water can also be very helpful. Depending on the seeds used, tiny sprouts will appear anywhere from 3 to 7 days later. Keep the soil moist, watch the sprouts grow, and as soon as the seedlings are a few inches tall, it�s harvest time! Get out the kitchen scissors and trim your microgreen carpet one section at a time as needed for simple salads, additions to soup, garnishes on top of meat�the opportunities are endless.
Even if you don�t have a suitable spot for a tray of microgreens, sprouts are an easy solution instead�soil isn�t even needed. Most of the same seeds work for sprouts as microgreens, and the procedure is even easier. Simply select a handful of seeds, then add them to a glass jar. Add water. Find a clean cloth (cheesecloth is great, but any clean handkerchief or torn-up old cotton T-shirt will do) and secure it around the top of the jar with a rubber band. Turn the jar upside down over the sink to drain. Repeat with fresh water and drain every day, once or twice as needed if the seeds are looking too dry.
Depending on seeds selected, they will sprout in three to fi ve days. Within the week, fresh sprouts will be tumbling around in the jar instead of seeds, ready for the season�s fi rst countertop harvest.