Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Constant Gardener


Living in Vermont and eating raw/live food in the winter and early Spring tends to take a big bite out of our budget as we eat tons of fruits and greens, which are pretty pricey in this neck of the woods! Residing in a small apartment downtown Montpelier had kept us co-op or grocery store bound, until I was introduced to growing green sprouts in my kitchen (and a few other rooms). It’s fun, easy, inexpensive, and yummy! It takes about 15 minutes to plant a tray, and I get heaps of lovely organic salads - delicious greens, as well as more oxygen and beauty in my living space. And an added plus - I know where my food has come from, how it’s been handled, and that it’s been loved and cared for!

Preparing the Soil and Seeds

I am able to get organic local seeds, and I usually plant sunflower, broccoli, radish, clover, buckwheat, pea and mustard seeds. I grow them in planting trays, and/or inexpensiv
e 3”x6” or 4”x8” aluminum loaf pans from the grocery store. I buy a 20 qt bag of all purpose compost based soil mix (which lasts for 4-6 weeks), and fill up a gallon plastic container or bag to hold the dry mix until I need it. To this container, I add 3 – 3 ½ cups of water, and set aside until the seeds are ready to plant.
I first soak the seeds for 6 to 12 hours max. If I’m using a small tray (3”x6”) I use 1 tablespoon of sunflower, radish, buckwheat, or pea seeds, and 1 teaspoon of broccoli seed per container. That would be 1 tablespoon (or 1 teaspoon) measure per container. For the 4”x8” tray I double that amount.

After the seeds have soaked, I sprinkle a ½ teaspoon of kelp meal powder at the bottom of the tray(s), and then I fill the tray(s) with the soil mix from the gallon container that I prepared. You can fill the tray with soil to within ¼” to ½” of the top. I level off the soil, but don’t pack it down. The soil should be loose and friable. The soil mix should feel moist, but not soggy.

Next, I prepare and soak newsprint paper covers, and soak them in a pan of water. A cover, folded to fit each tray is needed. Fold the paper so there are about 12 to 20 layers of the thin paper. The paper can soak while you’re planting the seeds. Make sure all the layers are completely wet. This is important to keep the germinating seeds moist.

Planting

After my seeds have soaked for the prescribed time, I pour the water off. I use a small strainer, and then give the seeds another rinse. I then spread them evenly over the top of the soil, and cover the seeds with the soaked, folded paper, pushing the edges of the paper down around the tray so that all the soil is covered.

Now I place the tray(s) in a warm, preferably dark, place. I use a cupboard in my buffet in the kitchen. Here they stay for four days. You can check to make sure the paper covers remain moist over then next four days. If they dry out, you can pour a little water right on the paper to remoisten. The soil should remain moist and not need further watering. If it does, try adding more water to your prepared bag or container of soil mix before planting, or add more water to the tray before planting the seeds.

Seeing the Light

After 4 days, the sprouts will push up the paper cover, and are ready for the light. Remove the paper covers and place the trays in the light. I put a shelf up in the middle of one of our windows, but the light source does not need to be direct sunlight. An east, or even north facing window will work just fine. Even light from a light fixture will green the sprouts. When you take the covers off the sprouts, they will be very pale, and there will be a whitish film around the soil. This is not mold, just root fibers. The sprouts will green up and fill out in a few days. The trays will need water everyday now for these few days. When you see how rapidly the sprouts shoot up, it will be no surprise that they will require plenty of water. I brush the greens gently with my hands to loosen and remove any seed pods. Oh, I also talk to them every day – to let them know how beautiful and lovely they are, and how grateful I am for their nourishment!

The Harvest

I harvest the greens with some kitchen scissors, cutting the stems just above the soil line, and use them in my salads, wraps, or just chomp down a handful. I store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator.

After the harvest, empty the soil from the tray and compost it, or give it to someone who can. I just pull out the mat of soil and seed. The soil comes out of the tray in one big clump. It’s amazing to see the major mass of roots that wrap around the inside of these trays.

The Economy

Writing all this actually took much longer than the whole planting process, so be undaunted! I usually plant a few trays every two or three days, which provides my husband, daughter and I a plethora of fresh, delicious greens. The price of all this? It figures out to about $2.00/pound as opposed to about $23.00/pound if I were to buy the sprouts at the store.

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