Sunday, February 3, 2019

Micro-greens! Easy and Inexpensive

Micro-greens are Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy. When I realized how many micro-greens are utilized in Chef Stephane's Conscientious Cuisine menu at Lake Austin Spa Resort, I knew I better figure out how to produce these for him, and quickly. At first, I was intimidated. As with all things horticulture, you can travel deep into complicated town, or you can keep it simple. I kept it simple.

There were a few key elements to consider. Lighting, growing medium, selection of species to grow, water, fertility, and timing. Sounds daunting. Trust me, it isn't. Keep in mind, I am growing for a restaurant. All of the elements will be the same for you at home, you need only adjust the amount you are sowing.

Micro-greens are a tasty, nutritious addition to our diet, and can be a lot of fun. I love to engage kids in growing and making healthy choices, and this is a wonderful way to do
just that. Kids that GROW veggies EAT veggies. Micro-greens are a super quick crop- like 7 to 10 days- so kids get results quickly.

Consider the following:
Lighting: You can grow micros in a super bright window, or, like me, with an inexpensive utility light and a LED grow bulb. I love those LED's because the stay cool. You must, however, situate that bulb right over your growing tray. If you hang it three feet above, you will not have good results. Mine are about 10-12 inches above the tray.
Growing Medium: You have options when it comes to choosing a growing medium. You can use anything from auger to a high quality potting medium- just make sure it is all vegetative, organic material, no top soil, sand, etc. I use cellulose grow mats. The soil-less option was the right one for me because it made harvesting and presenting them to Chef in the kitchen easier- no soil to wash off.
The cellulose mats are clean, inexpensive, easy to cut into whatever shape or size you need, and hold water well. They come pre-cut to fit our 10"x20" growing trays. If you use the cellulose mats, you will want the trays without holes.
Species to Grow: There are so many options for micro-greens! I currently grow a spicy salad mix, a mild salad mix, radish, basil, and peas. A great resource is True Leaf Market. They are a great online source for the seeds and all of the supplies. If you are just getting started, the mild salad mix is quick, easy,and goes well with most recipes.
Water: Before you sprinkle your seeds on the seed mat or on the soil, make sure your medium is wet. We saturate our seed mats first. After you sow, check you seeds daily. They should never get dry. We keep a pump-up mister with ours and spray them as often as they require. We also use a humidity dome for the first 24 hours or so. This helps aid germination, but you want to remove it after about a day, or you risk too much humidity and potential infections.

Fertility: Let's just step back and look at this crop- you are going to eat it quickly, like within 7 days or so of it being sown. So, two things- one: how much fertilizer do you think it needs? two: these are tiny micro-greens- you will have a hard time washing them, so don't put anything on them that you don't want in your mouth. I usually use clear water. If I use anything at all, I may mix in a tiny bit, like 1/8th strength, seaweed. But that's it. You don't need anything more.
Timing: How many folks are you providing micro-greens for, and how often? We are fulfilling the needs of a restaurant, so I start a 10"x20" tray of 3 varieties, a tray of peas, and a tray of basil once a week. You won't need that much. But you might! Only you will know. In case you end up with too much- chickens love them, birds love them, and kitties and dogs like them, too, but please double check and make sure you are growing things that are safe for them to eat before you share. Co-workers and friends will be impressed, too.

Micro-greens are fun, easy, and your set up does not have to break the bank. It's micro-greens, not a cash crop with a super high return (Colorado, I'm looking at you). To be honest, it is super satisfying to sow some seeds and see them germinate and grow right before your eyes. And using these in your cooking is super pro-chef, so get out your plating forceps and put Chef's Table on Netflix- you've got this!

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