On the growth continuum between seeds and mature plants, microgreens lie somewhere on the "newly arrived" side, between sprouts and baby vegetables.
These teensiest of seedlings can pack a surprisingly powerful and nutrient-rich flavor punch. They're also a quick and easy way to garden, because microgreens can be grown from seed during any season. Just plant them in flats by a sunny window; in a little more than two weeks, they're ready.
Their cheery colors and concentrated taste make them an eye-catching garnish and tangy topping for salads and soups. Many vegetables and herbs work well as microgreens, including amaranth, mustard, kale, carrot, sweet peas, basil, cilantro and parsley.
These seedlings are highly perishable once harvested, but if grown at home they are simple to snip and enjoy. Here's how:
• You'll need a seed-starting tray, with a fitted transparent cover, and some planting medium, both of which can be found easily at big-box stores and garden centers. Clean, sterile supplies will help avoid introducing contaminants and diseases that can infect fragile seedlings.
• Decide which types of seed to grow. My favorites are beets, because the stems are a bright red and they have an earthy taste; cilantro and basil, because of the surprisingly intense flavor of the microgreens; and bok choi, or Chinese cabbage, for the heart-shaped cotyledon leaves. Don't use seeds treated with chemicals. Johnny's Selected Seeds has a gardener-friendly catalog at Johnnyseeds.com.
• Fill the trays with the starter mix, then lightly tamp it down and level it off. Sprinkle seeds close together atop the planting mix, depending on how densely you want your microgreens to grow. Ignore the packet directions for plant spacing because your plants will get nowhere near fully mature.
• Cover the seeds with a single layer of paper towel to aid in moisture retention for germinating seeds, then water the starter mix and seeds through the paper until damp but well-drained. Cover the tray with the plastic dome lid, and place it in a sunny window. In a few days, you'll see the greens begin to peek out. Meanwhile, keep the soil and paper towels damp.
• Once the sprouts are about an inch tall, gently remove the paper towels and lids. Keep watering, but sprinkle gently.
• The first true leaves will emerge a few days after an initial pair of seed leaves. That means it's time to harvest; gather them just before you want to use them by snipping off the stems close to the soil. If you thin out the seedlings to only one or two per peat pot and let them grow longer, you'll have transplants for your outdoor garden.