Living in a climate like Vermont, where growing greens outdoors all winter is not an option (or even in areas where it is), raising shoots and microgreens can be a great way to expand the selection of winter produce available to your customers. By definition, shoots and microgreens are the tiny immature leaves of salad greens, herbs, edible flowers, and leafy vegetables. Not only do they make a nice addition to your winter selection, but they are versatile, delicious, and contain many nutrients like protein, vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll.
What makes these verdant gems so powerful?
Shoots and microgreens can be distinguished from sprouts in that sprouts are germinated using only water and are grown to the point of having just a root tail and/or cotyledon depending on the variety, with all growing parts eaten. Shoots and microgreens, on the other hand, are cultivated in soil or soilless medium and only the edible part above the soil line is harvested. While sprouts are extremely nutritious, shoots and microgreens have the added benefit of producing more chlorophyll, a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants can be a wonderful aid to our digestive and circulatory systems, helping to oxygenate, detoxify and alkalize the blood while boosting immunity. Who doesn’t need an immune boost in winter?
Of course, all leafy greens contain chlorophyll, but at just 1-3 inches tall, shoots and microgreens pack a huge punch in a small package. Darker green leaves indicate more chlorophyll, so wheatgrass leads the pack among the shoots. Eating leafy greens in general seems to have significant health benefits, but recently more research has been done to show that the overall nutrition in the leaves of microgreens and shoots is significantly higher than in the mature leaves of the same cultivars. So you are not only providing your customers with a wider array of choices, but also with more nutrient-dense options.
Easy to Grow
Shoots and microgreens are easy to grow in trays under lights or in a greenhouse. They are also quick to mature – in approximately 7-14 days, depending on the variety, you’re ready for harvest! It’s easy to get into a rhythm where harvest day coincides with CSA pick-up or market day. And if you already have a CSA or attend a farmers market, chances are you are already set up with a seed starting workstation, open flats with drainage holes, and a good source for potting mix or soilless medium.
- Fill flat with an inch or more of moistened potting soil (or soilless medium)
- Broadcast seed evenly over the surface and press seed gently into the soil (try experimenting with different varieties and seeding densities!)
- Using a mister or spray bottle, keep seeds evenly moist while germinating
- Lightly sprinkle soil or medium over seeds, or use a propagation dome to keep them from drying out
- Place flats under grow lights or in your greenhouse
- Remove the dome after seedlings have emerged to avoid mold
Harvest and Storage
Microgreens are harvested by clipping the stem when the first or second set of true leaves appear. For shoots, each variety is harvested at a slightly different stage. For instance, sunflower shoots are grown until their cotyledons appear, then cut at the base of their stem before their first true leaves appear. Pea shoots are harvested at about 3-4 inches or when the flavor appeals to you most. Wheatgrass can be grown as tall as 7-10 inches, but must be harvested before the next growth spurt, known as jointing. It is also important to know that wheatgrass is typically juiced and is very powerful…a small shot is all you need, so be sure to inform your customers. Wheatgrass is often sold in small flats and harvested by the customer just before juicing, but it too can be harvested and sold cut just like the others.
After harvest, wash your greens and dry on towels, in a spinner, or in mesh bags in the washing machine on the spin cycle for 5-15 minutes. Pack them loosely in plastic bags and store them in the refrigerator until pick up or market day. It is always nice, as with any new variety, to include recipes or ideas about how to include these little wonders in meals. Your customers will be thrilled to see these tasty little greens!
Find High Mowing’s selection of Shoots on our website
Try this Great Recipe: New England Winter Slaw
For More Growing Tips for Sprouts and Shoots: Sprouts and Shoots: For the Love of a Winter Salad
Read about how the Gallatin Valley Botanical farm in Bozeman, Montana grows Microgreens and Shoots as an integral part of their Winter CSA