Mustard and cress was probably the first thing I ever grew. No one called it ‘microgreens’ then, but the principle was the same: bit of wet kitchen roll, sprinkle seed on it, wait for them to germinate, water for two days, forget it’s on the school windowsill; throw away dried bit of kitchen roll.
Now they’re all the rage (though oddly, mustard and cress don’t seem to make it to gourmet tables very often). They’re being grown on an industrial scale, often in some pretty weird places (I went to visit an arable farm several hundred feet below Clapham North underground station last year; an old World War II deep level shelter now supplying some of London’s trendiest restaurants).
Now. I know the arguments against microgreens – that it’s a waste of the earth’s resources to use seed merely for one tiny plant instead of letting each one mature. But…
…I’ve got a vast collection of on-the-edge-of-going-out-of-date seed just now. Everything from lettuce to radish, basil to cabbage. I figure this would be perfect for growing micro-veg – I can sow them thickly so it won’t matter if the germination rate’s not so brilliant, and enjoy really intense flavour from teeny tiny little plants whose seed would otherwise have just been thrown away. Honest.Not feeling guilty at all. Not at all.
At an event recently I was given a sample of Johnson’s microgreen window sill growing kit. It consists of a clear tray, two little perforated trays that sit inside it, and some starter seeds.
I decided to see if it’s actually worth investing in a groovy, purpose-made tray or whether ye olde fashioned method of growing it in a seed tray with a little spent compost suffices.
I used the fresh seed supplied with the kits for both the control and the growing tray.
I’m not convinced of the efficacy of purchasing special ‘microgreen seed’, cute though it looks; even if my slightly-out-of-date seeds don’t germinate I can’t really see why I can’t just use regular, cheaper stuff. Still, since I got some with the kit, it sort of seemed important to use that.
The control set was pretty simple – basic half-trays, spent compost, seed on top, kept damp-wet.
The Johnson’s tray was not much harder. Fill the clear tray with water, place the perforated trays inside and put pieces of kitchen roll, cut to size, on top, dampened. Seed is sown thickly into each compartment, and sprayed two or three times a day. It’s not much effort – I gave them a little mist every time I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
Both germinated well. The control grew at a faster rate – it was ready to start snipping in five days, though it was victim to a small, white, furry mould around the seed itself (which didn’t impact on the shoot).
At the same time, the Johnson’s was really only just beginning to get bushy. I harvested on the eighth day.
I also stopped spraying the bog-standard tray much more quickly than the Johnson’s; which, according to instructions, I stopped misting when the roots hit the water in the reserve tank.
Flavour of both was much the same.
Basically, there’s no real reason why, if you were growing for food and had lots of room, you wouldn’t just dedicate a couple of half seed trays and a little spent compost to growing microgreens. It takes less time to grow them and less effort misting them, though you have to watch for fungal infections.
…I have actually bought a second growing kit from Johnsons – and here’s why.
It looks nicer. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Shoot me.
If I get a little crop-rotation-thing going on my windowsill (for which this kit is designed, so it’s nice and narrow, and doesn’t hang off the side) it doesn’t matter that it takes a bit longer to crop my microgreens, and it really isn’t any effort at all to do a spot of misting while the kettle boils.
Cleanup is a dream – you just pull the old kitchen roll and dead stems away and pop them in the compost bin, remove any bits of root and dispose of them the same way. A quick rinse and the tray’s ready to go again.
Granted, a bog-standard seed tray and compost combo isn’t much tougher – stubble and the small amount of compost used can just be emptied into the compost and it isn’t that messy to wash – but for my money, it’s just, well, neater to have the Johnson’s tray in my kitchen.
I’m happy to be a bit grubby in my shed and my garden. Okay, I’m happy to be VERY grubby there. On the plot it’s pretty much obligatory to use old planks for raised beds and bits of discarded gutter for seed trays, but in my home, I’d like to at least have a semblance of gravitas. At £4.50 for tray + seeds it’s an indulgence I’ll wear. The seed trays are needed elsewhere anyway, this time of year.
I’ll never reach the dizzying depths of Clapham North’s Deep Level Shelter. But with two little windowsill seed trays on the go, each with two teeny-tiny crops, I reckon I can enjoy a small event every day…