Green Hotels Association
    December 2016  


Micro greens!

A few months ago I bought a grow-light system to grow plants in my garage. I heard that snicker, and I know what you're thinking. No, I didn't buy lights to grow that particularly infamous plant, which is now legal to grow in some states, but remains illegal here in Texas.

Instead, I got the lights to begin growing microgreens--a newish trend among chefs and foodies, and a wonderful complement to backyard vegetables or windowsill herbs. Microgreens are 7 to 14 day old seedlings from a variety of plants, including arugula and other lettuces, plants from the brassica family, such as broccoli and cauliflower, and other plants like amaranth, kale, mustard, spinach and peas. The seeds are planted densely in flats and grown under lights or in a sunny windowsill. After a few days, they reach or surpass the sprout stage and continue on to develop their first leaves. By the two-week mark, or even earlier, they are ready to harvest.

microgreens Gardeners, especially vegetable gardeners, will find lots to love about growing microgreens. First of all, they are really easy to grow. Whether under lights or in a sunny windowsill, they take very little space, require minimal maintenance and are as pest-free as any houseplant. For a windowsill garden, simply recycle a plastic container from salad greens. Cut the lid off and place it under the container for a drip pan. Put a few inches of potting soil in the container. Place the seeds onto the soil in a thick concentration and press them into the soil. Cover the seeds with a paper towel and mist it until it's thoroughly wet. Water the paper towel twice a day until the seeds sprout enough to start pushing it up; then remove the towel. Water the seedlings with a spray bottle twice a day until they are about 10- to 14-days old. To harvest, simply snip them with a pair of scissors.

What to do with them now? Well, this is the second great thing about microgreens--they are tasty and packed with nutritional value. A recent study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry indicated that microgreens can have up to six times more nutrients--especially vitamins A, E and beta carotene---than the mature versions of the same plants. What this means is that a small bundle of microgreens scrambled into eggs, tossed into a smoothie, or layered into a salad automatically boosts the health benefits of your food without increasing volume. Do you hate salad? No problem! Just throw a handful of microgreens onto that barbacoa taco and, suddenly, it becomes more healthful.

Another great benefit of growing microgreens is that it's easy and fun for kids. My 4-year-old son loved helping me set up the light kit in the garage and then placing the soil in each of the tiny containers in the flats I bought. He helped me press down the seeds into the soil and water the paper towels. For the next week, he would declare several times a day, "It's time to check the salad!" and run to the garage to water the seedlings with spray bottles. I let him cut the first harvest with the kitchen shears and proudly take them into the kitchen for my wife to add as a topping for homemade pizza.

Granted, he's been gardening with me in the yard since he could sit up, so it's in his blood. But, microgreens are easy-peasy for little fingers and short attention spans, and the equipment is fun--I mean, really, spray bottles are not that different from water guns. Finally, the results are dramatic and almost instantaneous. Our first seeds sprouted within 24 hours, and in another 24 hours, they were almost an inch tall. No delayed gratification.

To get started, get a few packets of seed mix of salad greens, or other type of leafy plant. Grow in your windowsill using natural light, or buy a grow-light system. Several systems are available online for around $50 that include the T5 fluorescent bulb, which is the recommended type for growing plants. Position the light about 12-18 inches above the seedlings. Turn it off at night to give the plants a rest. Use the soil and water you would use for other plants, and recycle the six-packs, nine-packs or other such containers most gardeners have laying around from trips to the nursery or grocery store. Give your seedlings about three minutes of attention per day (spilt into two sessions), and within two weeks, you'll have your first crop of healthy, verdant microgreens.

For veteran gardeners, microgreens are a walk in the park--no back-breaking work out in the hot sun, no pests to fight, no long waits for mature fruit at 70, 90 or 120 days. For beginning gardeners, or for those with only a windowsill or a bookshelf for space, microgreens can be the gateway plants into the practice of growing some of your own food. It's fast, inexpensive, healthy and, well, very trendy--and we sweaty gardeners get so few opportunities to be trendy.

Carroll, Jill, micro greens, Houston Chronicle, September 3, 2016


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GREEN IDEA!

Extend the Season: Growing herbs indoors lets you enjoy the delights of fresh-picked herbs year-round. As summer ends, transplant herbs from the garden to pots and move them indoors. Select plants, including immature annuals or tender perennials, and dig carefully around their roots to avoid damaging them. Annuals, such as this basil, will continue growing into winter. Return perennials to the garden in spring.


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