What To Grow In Winter: Sprouted Seeds, Microgreens & Baby Plants
At This Time of Year I’m Often Asked About …. What To Grow In Winter
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I know a lot of gardeners that dust off their spade in spring, garden all summer and go into hibernation in autumn. Winter is a no-go time for gardening as far as they are concerned.
Other gardeners I know sow or harvest something virtually every day. The amazing thing is that it isn’t that difficult, particularly if you start with the basics and just keep expanding your repertoire.
At its most basic, I’m betting that most of us have grown mustard and/or cress on a damp tissue on a windowsill. And if we can manage that then the following suggested crops are going to prove just as easy. Let’s start with microgreens!
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are simply baby versions of virtually any type of vegetable you can name. The idea is that you eat them soon after they germinate, which means they crop in days rather than months. Microgreens are easy to grow and come in a variety of colours, textures and types that can pack a real tasty flavour punch.
The main advantage I see with microgreens centres on the ease of growing them and the fact you can harvest fresh, succulent and healthy veg minutes before serving them up. The very fact you can grow them on a windowsill, using everyday containers makes them especially ideal for winter growing in my book. I’ll show you later how to grow them in seed trays but it’s just as easy to recycle used grape and chicken containers to get fresh crops every day of the week.
Pretty well all microgreens are as easy to grow as the mustard and cress you probably grew as a child.
The other plus a lot of people comment on is how the seedlings are full of natural antioxidants that boosts the immune system and help you fight many serious diseases and illnesses. I always caution people about such claims without evidence from peer-reviewed research. Certainly, some of the claims are true but don’t confuse that with believing all the claims are true. For example, in Microgreens: Assessment of Nutrient Concentrations, 2013, Lester Xiao and Wang show that varying levels of vitamins. However, they do conclude that generally speaking the levels of vitamins are higher than in mature plants of the same species. However, I’d caution that most of us aren’t short of the vitamins discussed by them, so this isn’t as important as we might be led to believe.
What are Sprouted Seeds, Microgreens, Mini Plants / Mini Crops / Baby Crops?
It’s easy to confuse the different sorts of seed and immature crops that can be grown. So here’s a quick run down as I see it.
Sprouted seeds are things like bean sprouts. The seed has germinated, is crunchy and great in Chinese and other cuisines, but they are no leaves on the sprout.
Microgreens are the next stage along from sprouted seeds. The seed has germinated, has cotyledons and a hint of the first true leaves.
All the rest of the above are easiest described as baby crops. They are just smaller versions of the full-grown vegetables. Some, such as the Nipper leeks I grow, are selected to be harvested small. They are just like other varieties but smaller at maturity.
Others, such as the baby kale I grow are either specifically selected lines that are selected for their small size OR the full-sized variety that is harvested small. Examples would include the normally full size “Scarlet” kale from which I harvest a few leaves at a time when it has just a few inches high, to some of the oriental veg mixes and “Babyleaf” kale selected specifically for this purpose.
What Are The Different Types of Microgreens?
I’ve explained what microgreens are … but not about the different types. Essentially this isn’t so very different to growing veg in the normal way. They come from a number of different plant families as listed below. Some may surprise you!
- Brassicaceae: Kale, cabbage, watercress, radish and rocket. Some people would add cauliflowers, sprouts etc but I can’t see they vary much from cabbage at this stage of growth
- Compositae: Lettuce, chicory, endive and radicchio. Personally, I’d rather let some of these get a bit bigger before harvest. Cut and come again lettuce make more sense to me than lettuce microgreens.
- Alliaceae: Onion, leek etc. are possible and some people grow them as microgreens. However, I tend to grow leeks as baby leeks, never as microgreens. And onion isn’t something I’ve ever considered as a microgreen. For onion flavours, I’d rather go for a pot of chives on the windowsill. It’s not perfect but is close enough for me.
- Amaranthaceae: Amaranth, quinoa, swiss chard, beet and spinach
- Umbelliferae: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
Which Microgreens Grow Best in Winter?
If grown indoors in a heated greenhouse all of these will grow as microgreens in winter. Some, such as Mangetout, will grow outside in many areas.
As for leaf crops/baby plants, I’m very keen on crops such as kale, spinach, beet etc as well as lettuce.
How To Grow Microgreens
I don’t agree with every detail in this video BUT it’s a great place to start.
The Cost Of Growing Microgreens
Below I go into my thoughts on cost-saving. But for the beginner, there are kits you can buy to grow microgreens. They cost a bit more than a DIY approach, but growing microgreens is still pretty low cost and you get a crop in a week or so. If you want to go into full-scale production and run out of windowsill space then a few grow lamps make sense. But they do add to the cost.
Several companies sell microgreen kits including seed. But if you want to keep costs down I’d buy the kit you need separately. Especially the seeds which can be bought in bulk either as larger packets or, as I saw in one garden centre recently, loose.
What To Grow In Winter
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