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Your garden’s tiniest stars

At this time of year, anything you can do in your garden that returns food in a mere couple of weeks has got to be worth a go. We introduce some of the edible garden’s tiniest stars.

Micro-what?

Microgreens are really the next stage on from sprouts, with the difference that they are usually sown into a growing medium rather than water. They are small seedlings of different salad, herb and vegetable plants that are harvested and eaten when only a few centimetres in height and bearing a couple of leaves.

Microgreens are best mass-planted in shallow trays or pots containing soil or planting medium, and you can grow them now. The trick is to provide a minimum temperature of around 13°C for most seeds to germinate – though some require a warmer start than this.

Indoors or out, you should be able to grow microgreens year-round whatever part of New Zealand you’re in. Because you can harvest microgreens within a few weeks of sowing, they’re a fun thing to do with any kids that are at a school holiday loose end.

How to get started

The easiest way to get started is to buy some untreated seeds – these can be obtained from Eco Seeds or Kings Seeds. A lot of the seeds imported for cooking are specifically treated to stop them from sprouting, so you don’t want those.

Many of the larger seed varieties such as beetroot and peas benefit from being soaked for a few hours before sowing. This wake-up bath improves their germination. Other mucilaginous seeds (such as cress) form a jelly-like coating once wet which makes them hard to sow.

  1. Start with a shallow container, such as a recycled plastic takeaway tray with small drainage holes punched into the base, and fill to just below the rim with seed-raising mix.
  2. Gently pat it down with the palm of your hand so that the mix is even and level. Your mix should be at least 4cm deep.
  3. Scatter seed across the surface and then sift a fine layer of seed-raising mix on top.
  4. Place your container in a sunny, warm spot and water using a mister if you have one. Keep the mixture moist but not too wet. It is important to provide even and continuous moisture.
  5. You can also cover the seeds with a clear lid or sheet of plastic until they’ve sprouted and are beginning to show their first leaves. After that any cover needs to be removed to prevent mould developing.
  6. Your microgreens are ready to be cut with scissors just above soil level when their first set of true leaves appears. This is usually the second set of leaves that appear after the rounded first set of cotyledon leaves.

Before you know it you’ll be juicing and scrunching away those mid-winter sniffles with smoothies and salads made of vital homegrown nutrition!

Potted love

Try these recycled container ideas – just check you have drainage holes unless your container is made of organic material such as paper:

  • Egg cartons as well as empty eggshells
  • Used seedling and plant punnets
  • Plastic supermarket tomato trays, kiwifruit punnets and yoghurt pots
  • Tin cans – tomato, tuna, etc
  • Cut-down plastic milk or juice cartons
  • Paper coffee/drink cups
  • Grapefruit skins
  • Bamboo steamers or old lunch boxes
  • Old drawers or boots
  • Old roasting trays (you’ll need a drill to make drainage holes)
  • Shoe-box lids – put two inside each other and they should do for one harvest

Outdoor education

Remarkables Primary School is remarkable in more ways than one. The small Queenstown school is a newly built Enviro School – with ‘pods’ instead of classrooms and ‘expedition leaders’ instead of teachers. Now, thanks to Auckland-based Greenroofs, it’s also one of a handful of schools in the world with a green roof.

The roof was part of the school’s original design (from architects Babbage Consultants) and it serves several functions: reducing stormwater runoff, adding insulation in colder months and helping absorb noise from the nearby airport. The school’s site is about half the size of a typical New Zealand primary school, so the roof provides extra space. “Not only will our green roof enable our children to have a further outdoor learning space, but, as an Enviro School we plan to use the roof as a tool to educate and promote sustainable practice through the Paper 4 Trees programme, composting, gardens and worm farm,” says the school’s principal Deborah Dickson.

The school is set in a valley and is overlooked by neighbouring houses, so a final bonus of the green roof is that it helps make the school look attractive and merge into its surroundings.

Notes for now

• There’s probably still time to plant some garlic if you have a bed ready with fertile, well-drained soil. In warmer areas you can also plant potatoes.

• If you sowed any green manure crops back in April and May, then now’s the time to dig them into the beds while they are still young and green.

• Dig up any old herbs – such as lovage, marjoram and mint – that are getting a bit woody in their centre. Break off young healthy outer parts and replant or pot up until warmer weather returns to your garden.

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