I live in a food desert, sort of. I have a car; I can get to food. But not always in a convenient way because we live almost an hour away, in every direction, from organic, fresh, whole food. And that’s the food we eat, without compromise – organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised, locally-grown, unprocessed food.
Whether it’s Whole Foods, our favorite local farm, or a decent farmers’ market that doesn’t resell GMO produce from a box store, it’s a trip for us. We manage a weekly Whole Foods run, and a monthly farmers’ market visit, but sometimes even that can be inconvenient if we’re not in that area during the week.
So we started looking at what we eat the most, and from that list, what we could successfully grow at home in the limited space we had, in the quantities we needed, and in a sustainable way. We came up with two foods: sweet potatoes, and microgreens; we eat a lot of both.
With potatoes happily growing underground in nutrient-rich soil, I wanted to bring the microgreens above ground, in convenient containers, perfectly clean, and ready to snip and eat, just like if you had a container herb garden. Except I didn’t want any soil – I didn’t want the mess.
The method with which I’ve been experimenting uses cheesecloth as the growing medium, without soil, and compost tea delivering the nutrients that would otherwise be in the soil. And it works beautifully, in any container, indoors or out, with minimal maintenance.
Hold on, what’s the big deal about microgreens?
If you’re not a big salad eater, or (yet) a fan of vegetables, microgreens pack a lot of phytonutrients into your day without having to fill three-quarters of your plate with vegetables (although, we’ll get you there slowly). In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, microgreens deliver up to 40 times more nutrients, like vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin E, as compared to the mature vegetable.
Wait. Compost tea?
Compost tea is a convenient way to deliver nutrients, extracted from the compost, via water. And for this clean(er) method, it eliminated the need for soil.
For the compost tea:
- Place 1 cup of compost (I use mushroom compost) on an 8×8-inch square of double-layered cheesecloth. Gather the four corners and tie the cheesecloth closed using cotton butcher’s twine, creating a “tea bag.”
- Place the tea bag into a glass or ceramic pitcher of warm filtered water. Let steep at least 30 minutes, or place in the sun up to 8 hours.
- Squeeze the tea bag while in the water, and then remove the tea bag, squeezing the excess water out and allowing the nutrient-rich water to fall back into the pitcher.
- Transfer compost tea into a clean glass spray bottle or plant mister.
For the microgreen seeds:
- Select the organic seeds you’d like to germinate. Any organic seeds can be used – cruciferous vegetables have a tendency to give off a strong odor when wet, so I recommend these stay outside after they’ve been moistened. My favorite is beet microgreens, but you can also purchase a variety of different seeds, and mix them together. Each will have its own germinating timetable.
- Using a flat stainless steel sheet pan, a glass baking dish, or ceramic container (do not use plastic), measure 7 pieces of cheese cloth to fit the inside of the container.
- Place each piece of cheesecloth into your container of choice, lightly spraying each layer with the compost tea.
- Generously sprinkle seeds across the top layer of moistened cheesecloth, with very few gaps between seeds. Lightly spray the seeds with compost tea.
- Cover the container with glass, a ceramic top, a stainless sheet pan – anything to keep the environment moist until the seeds sprout. Avoid plastic wrap whenever possible. Place the container in a warm, dark place, like in a pantry closet, and check it every 24 hours.
- Mist seeds with compost tea as the cheesecloth begins to dry out. As soon as you see sprouts, move the container into direct sunlight.
- Continue to mist seeds/cheesecloth with compost tea as needed, and within a few more days, when the sprouts have grown a second set of leaves, you’ll have microgreens ready to harvest. Snip with scissors, or gently pull from the cheesecloth to harvest.
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