In several of our recipes, we have used sunflower microgreens as a garnish. They add an interesting smokey flavour to salads, sandwiches, and soups.
They are difficult to find in the stores in our immediate area, but are simple to grow right on your windowsill or counter. They take 7-14 days, depending on the amount of light and the temperature of the room. In the upcoming days of winter, they will add a spring time cheer to your kitchen, and your plate.
We have found a very well reasearched article on the speculated nutrition of sunflower microgreens, which are assumed to be more nutritious than just eating the seeds.
Basic directions that come with the seeds are to soak the seeds 4-8 hours, plant them on top of a growing medium, keep moist and wait 7 - 10 days to harvest.
I have included pictures and detailed instructions, because I have messed up so many ways in my first few attempts to grow microgreens, and I would like to spare you the frustration.
Use Your Phone
I strongly recommend that you keep notes of what you do, so that you can adjust and get better over time. The memo feature on your smart phone is perfect for this.
A word about containers
There are pictures of microgreens grown in so many different things, from take out containers and cardboard boxes, to professional seed starting flats. The only caveat is that you want to use something that is food safe.
If your container has drainage holes at the bottom, you will want to water every day, but if it does not have drainage holes, you will need to be more careful with the amount of water you use.
We happen to use stacking sprouting trays from Mumms Sprouts, because we already had them on hand, and they make just the right amount of microgreens for one meal for our family. It took us some experimentation to find the right trays for us.
How Much Seed Do I Use?
You want to have a thick, single layer of seeds covering the surface area of your container.
I have tried to add a double layer, thinking that the seeds might just grow denser. Bad move. They ended up with some growing inside the soil, and others growing in the middle of the main crop. It makes harvesting them difficult, and does not increase your yield.
After you have your seeds covering the bottom of your container, measure how much seeds you have and make a note of it for next time.
Soak the seeds for 4-8 hours. I use Toronto tap water, unfiltered, and it does not affect germination. The water will look like weak tea at the end
Put your gardening soil in a bowl, add enough water to make it all damp but not soggy, and mix. When you squeeze the soil, it should not drip.
Put at least an inch and a half of gardening soil into your container, but I recommend filling it to just under 1/4" full. Drain the seeds, and spread them on top of the soil.
Do not try to bury the seeds with soil. I did that once. As the greens pushed up, they used the soil all over the counter, and they needed to be washed extra well after I harvested them. Not fun.
Below is a photo of a 3 day old tray of sprouts beside the brand new tray.
Weighted Lids Are Important
John from the Growing Your Greens YouTube channel stressed the importance of adding weight to the top of the seeds when he toured a microgreen grow house. The person leading the tour said that it made the stems stronger. It has also been a practice of Urban Farmer Curtis Stone in B.C., to put some sort of flat concrete slab on top of his seed flats in his professional greenhouse, though he did not give a reason for doing so.
Let me tell you what happens when you ignore the wise words of professionals doing their thing.
I have tried to just let the seeds sprout without anything on top, and they would dry out, the germination was spotty, and some of the early sprouting seeds knocked the other seeds out of the tray, all over the counter. I also tried with just a lid, not weighing it down, and the roots of the later sprouting seeds did not have time to reach down to soil, and ended up in the middle of the crop, or on the counter.
So now, I put either a piece of cardboard cut to fit the container, or the container lid, with a sandwich container full of water on top. I have tried a ziplock bag filled with water, but it will leak all over your counter over the course of the 5 days you need to keep it on the seeds.
These are the sprouts after 7 and 4 days. I take the weighted lid off of the sprouts at about day 5.
You can start eating the greens at this point, or wait. The taste changes from nearly identical to a sunflower seed, to something different as the greens mature, so cut a few and taste them every day. We happen to enjoy them on the mature side.
You may also notice that the shells are stuck to your sprouts. My container has excellent drainage, so when the soil begins to dry out, I am able to run water over them in the sink, and gently brush my hand over the greens to knock off the hulls.
Harvesting the Sprouts
Here are the sprouts after 12 days. If you only need a few for garnish, its easiest to use scissors, but if you want to harvest the whole tray at once, use a sharp knife with a straight blade. The knife needs to be sharp, or you will end up bruising and breaking the sprouts. You can keep them in the fridge for several days, but we always use them the same day, so I have no comment on the taste or quality.
Have you tried growing any other types of sprouts or greens? Tell us about it in the comments below.