Grow one serving of greens per day in your home

With the Covid-19 outbreak and shelter-in-place order, we’ve all been forced to re-examine our consumption patterns and choices. Recently, many of my friends have reached out to me asking how I’m preparing for an extended shelter-in-place order, and particularly, what I’m putting into soil. I can only assume their interest in growing food is founded on a fear of prolonged food insecurity resulting from the outbreak. Whether it’s true or not, there are several benefits to growing your own food in a time like this: eat fresh and nutritious food, reduce trips to a grocery store, alleviate cabin fever, and decorate your home with plants.

“It’s easy to grow food but it’s very difficult to grow enough food.” — Dr. David Chassin

David is a friend and a fellow gardener, and he’s absolutely right about how difficult (read ambitious) it is to grow all of your own food. So let’s tone down our ambition for the time being. Let’s not grow all of our own food. Instead how about growing just one serving a day?

In this article, I’ll walk you through how to grow a single serving of microgreens per day, every day. This article is for everyone. Whether you’re having to self-isolate or you’re simply planning, maybe for the first time, to grow your own food; whether you live in a single family home with a huge backyard or share an apartment with your friends; you can grow a serving of greens a day, every. single. day. Let’s get started.

Goal

Harvest a single serving of microgreens every day. We’ll grow pea shoots.

Planning

There are vast amounts of information on the internet about growing microgreens. In this article, I’ve attempted to reduce that info into essential steps that you need to know to successfully grow pea shoots.

Seeds
Since microgreens are grown far more densely than individual seedlings, we need a lot of seeds. Seed packets can get expensive very quickly, so I buy my seeds in bulk. I ordered 50 lbs of Dun Peas from True Leaf Market, enough for around 4 months.

Propagation Trays
Technically, any container that can hold some soil can be used to grow microgreens. Microgreens don’t need much nutrition from the soil. They are harvested so early in their lifespan that their nutritional needs can be supported by the seed itself. So, in the spirit of keeping things simple and dirt free, I decided to grow my first batch in sprout trays. Any sprout tray should do fine, but if you’re looking for something aesthetically pleasing, I recommend these 4-layer sprout trays from Amazon.

Pea shoots have a growth cycle of 15 days. I started with 16 sprout trays (4 of these), with the plan of preparing one tray a day. Grow one tray per day and in about 15 days, I’ll always have pea shoots to cook.

Finding Space
Now that you have all this time at home, I suggest looking around your house to find a space that is fit for growing food. For pea shoots, you’re looking for an indoor space, preferably with some direct sunlight, although indirect sunlight and indoor lights should work fine too. Professional microgreen growers will recommend LED grow lights and light recipes for optimal growth, but we’re going to keep things simple. If you have a spot that gets 2 or more hours of direct sunlight, great! If not, indirect sunlight and indoor lighting will do just fine— pea shoots are a forgiving crop.

Making a schedule
I find it easier to accomplish tasks when I can fit them into my daily routine. This has been particularly easy lately, since I have no school drop-offs to make, no commuting back and forth from work, no social meetings to attend, and perhaps most importantly, nowhere else to be but home. Here’s my super simple 4-step daily routine:

  • 8am — Soak a cup (per tray) full of seeds. Takes less than 2 minutes.
  • 12pm — Prepare the tray. This takes less than 5 minutes if you’re starting with a clean tray. If you’re cleaning a tray from the previous harvest, this step could take about 10–15 min.
  • 4pm — Water the tray, if necessary. Takes a minute, maybe.
  • 8pm — Water the tray, if necessary. Takes a minute, maybe. No, this is not a copy/paste. You want to check on your tray, especially during the early stages of germination.

Soaking the seeds

Soaking pea shoots improves the germination rate and speeds up the germination process. It is important that you soak Dun Peas for 4 hours before preparing your tray. I have found that a cup of dry seeds, after soaking, is enough to fill my sprout trays.

Preparing the tray

Although it is simple to prepare the tray, you want to follow the steps below carefully to ensure your seeds germinate successfully and you avoid potential issues like fungal growth.

  1. Spread the soaked seeds on the germination tray (the one with the mesh bottom).
  2. Place the the storage tray underneath. This will help catch any extra water.
  3. Cover seeds with a layer of kitchen towels
  4. Use cool water for this step. Pour just enough water to soak the paper towels. Make sure you don’t overwater. You do not want to drown the seeds.

Watering and watching peas grow

I follow different methods of watering at different stages of germination. This ensures that my plants are happy, and more importantly, it helps avoid issues of spoiling due to fungal growth.

During the first 3–4 days, or the germination phase, you want to keep the seeds moist but not wet. With the paper towel blanket still on, rinse your seeds with cool water several times a day to keep them moist and wash away carbon dioxide. To protect your seeds from mold:

  • keep them away from direct heat,
  • keep them away from direct light, and
  • keep them away from cold drafts.

After a few days, your seeds will start to put out roots, and small shoots with very tiny leaves. They are now ready for photosynthesis. It’s time to remove the paper towel blanket and move these little seedlings into direct light.

At this stage, I switch over to a different watering routine. I water once a day, draining excess water from the bottom storage tray and then refilling it with fresh cool water. You MUST NOT spray or mist water on top of the pea shoots. This can cause mold and ruin the entire tray of seedlings.

Once in light, the pea shoots grow tall, fast. If you’re doing everything right, by day 7, your tray is looking like this:

If you’re starting a new tray every day, by day 12, you’ll have pea shoots in different stages of their growth — some almost ready to harvest while others are experiencing first light.

Harvesting pea shoots

The harvesting process is simple. Grip a bunch of pea shoots in one hand and slice off their stems with a sharp pair of scissors. Since we’re growing indoors in a soil free environment, you don’t really have to wash your greens unless you really want to. Your daily serving of pea shoots is ready for you to enjoy.

You can also store your pea shoots in a refrigerator for later use. Wrap them in a paper towel, and place them in a plastic bag. Leave the plastic bag open and stick it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They should last 2 to 3 days.

Composting

What’s the best way to get rid of the remains? Compost.

I simply pull out all the shoots and toss them in a worm tower. “What’s a worm tower?” you ask. That’s a topic for another article. 🙂

For now, you can simply toss the leftovers in the green bin and wash your sprout tray for the next round of seeds.

Now head over to the kitchen, and enjoy those home-grown, freshly-cut pea shoots!

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