Instant Gardening Gratification

Instant Gardening Gratification

By Kathryn Pankowski

It’s one of those dreary November days. The mountains have pulled the cloud duvet over their heads, rain falls relentlessly, and the ground squelches. What on earth can a gardener do to cheer up?

The answer is microgreens.

Microgreens are leafy herbs and greens, grown quickly indoors and then cut off in their tender youth (literally). It’s a bit of a dirty trick to play on a plant, but the technique does offer a way to produce some fresh food when growing conditions are at their worst.

A tray of freshly-sown microgreens, with dill on the left and radishes for leaf on the right. The covered tray to the left holds cilantro and mustard.  Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

A tray of freshly-sown microgreens, with dill on the left and radishes for leaf on the right. The covered tray to the left holds cilantro and mustard. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

What to grow? Microgreens will never give you a big crop, so the strategic gardener will concentrate on plants that provide strong flavours in small amounts: herbs such as dill, basil, and coriander, or spicy greens such as arugula and mustard. It’s not so much about growing a whole salad, as an array of ‘pick-me-ups’ to liven winter salads, roasted root vegetables, and soups.

How to grow microgreens:

Find a shallow container (7-10 cm is fine) that will fit in the sunniest and warmest spot available and can be provided with drainage holes and a tray to catch drips.

Fill the container with soil. Regular potting soil will work, but the microgreens do much better if you can get your hands on a potting mix designed specifically for seed-starting.

Water the soil, draw some shallow furrows, and plant your seeds to the depth indicated on the packet. The trick here is to plant thickly. Ignore the spacing directions, the plants aren’t going to get big enough to crowd each other out.

Cover the seeds, pat down the soil to firm it up a bit, and place the container where it will get as much light as possible.

If desired, cover the planting container with cling film (make sure it doesn’t touch the soil) or an inverted clear plastic container. This makes a mini-greenhouse to speed germination. (We are going for instant gratification, after all.)

Check the container daily. Depending on what you’ve planted, you may see green shoots in as little as a few days. (Slow sprouters, such as coriander, may take a couple of weeks.) Take off the cover as soon as you see the first shoots.

Let the plants grow, watering gently as needed. First they will put out a pair of seed leaves (which may look different from their other leaves), and then the first pair of ‘true’ leaves. At that point, they are ready to eat.

To harvest, the more tidy among us cut microgreens off neatly at soil level, but the more earthy pull them up, rinse the dirt off, and eat them roots and all. Your call.

When they’re all devoured, plant another crop. You can use the same soil for a couple of batches, and then replace it.

There are a few things to bear in mind when growing microgreens:

Don’t be tempted to use up that packet of old parsnip seeds; parsnip leaves are toxic.

Make sure you use untreated, food-grade seed. (Seed treated with fungicides in Canada is dyed a bright colour as a safety measure, so it’s easy to identify them.)

If buying new seed, it’s cheaper to get ‘sprouting seeds’ in bulk from a garden centre or health-food store than individual packets.

And there you go. Plant microgreens now and you’ll get a couple of crops before holiday ornaments cover the windowsills. It’s as close to instant gratification as gardening gets.

Neighbourhood Gardening News

We will be adding two more apple trees to the community ‘orchardette’ beside the tennis court in Todd Parkette sometime in November or early December. These will be mid-to-late season apples, to complement the early-to-mid season varieties planted last year. We will also be planting five food-bearing trees in Charles Redfern Park. All seven trees were generously donated by Le Coteau Nursery (thanks, Rob!) and will, in a couple of years, produce food available for harvesting by anyone in the neighbourhood.

Nourish Kitchen & Café on Quebec St. is presenting a series of Urban Gardening Workshops with Solara Goldwyn of Hatchet & Seed, one in each season of the year. Each one-and-a-half hour workshop includes a tour of the Nourish kitchen garden and a talk on seasonal tasks. Workshops are $45 each. Check the Nourish website for dates, more information, and to buy tickets.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.

Objects that shout “James Bay!”

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