Permaculture and Microgreens

For the past few weeks I have been doing more reading and thinking about permaculture, and how growing microgreens can fit into a permaculture lifestyle.

Permaculture is a set of principles that can help us live more closely with nature. Part of the idea is that we should mimic natural processes in our cultivation of food and in the design of our homes. One of the most important tenets is that energy should be conserved and never willfully wasted.

A permaculture home can have many modes of food production including a greenhouse for starting seedlings, an herb garden closely accessible to the kitchen and a vegetable garden also within close proximity to the house. In permaculture there is an emphasis on planting fruit trees and other edible plants that will supply abundance year after year with little upkeep.

The idea is that keeping these gardens close to the living quarters will help us tend to them, and designing their layout consciously in relationship with one another will help us make the most of every square foot of our available space.

That latter part is where microgreens come in. Microgreens can occupy tiny spaces of the home that are otherwise unused for food production, such as kitchen windowsills. In fact, that’s where I started growing microgreens a few months ago.

After a few weeks of growing in my kitchen windowsill I began to think of other places in my home where I could grow. I ended up deciding to set up a grow area in my spare bedroom under a windowsill that receives several hours of indirect light a day. I can fit three 20″ x 10″ trays on the metal rack that I have positioned under the window.

Previously that window was “wasted” energy. Effectively all the sunshine was just going unused, but now we’re getting arugula, broccoli, mustard greens and whatever else we choose to grow. It’s a logical extension of permaculture principles of energy conservation and optimal land use.

Learning 2 Slow Down and ‘Do Less’

As an office worker, my day is often filled with countless tasks large, small and miniscule. My inbox and to-do list are full of requests, tweaks and fixes. In the frenetic pace of the workday, tasks are often completed in minutes or hours.

So when it comes to growing microgreens that take a week or two to grow, the simple act of slowing down can be a great challenge. Even though microgreens are among the quickest seed-to-harvest crops around, moving at the pace of the plants means chilling out a bit. And don’t get me wrong, that’s one of the best parts of growing!

This all came to my attention yesterday, when I realized I had maybe meddled prematurely with my arugula by unstacking the containers, misting them and then re-stacking them daily rather than just allowing them to stay stacked and germinate in place for a few days.

We’ll see how things go with this new, more hands-off approach. Perhaps I’ll have to tweak it a bit by giving the soil a bit more moisture at the outset, or maybe I’ll find that it doesn’t work as well as I had hoped. But for now, I’ll try to just let the seeds do what they were made to do.

Just like Paul Rudd’s character Kunu says in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” sometimes the best thing is to “Do Less.”

Arugula seeds

UPDATED: Sticky Seeds

UPDATE: Thanks to a kind Redditor who gave me some feedback on this post, I think I’ve seen the mistake that I made below.

Instead of unstacking my trays everyday for a misting, I will try instead to let the seeds germinate for several days in place using just the moisture of the soil.

I’ll write a separate post following-up on how that goes. For posterity, I’ll leave the original post below with an additional edit below the post.

One of the key reasons I’m writing this blog is to document the successes and failures, however small, of a newbie microgreen grower.

And while there is a wealth of information out there, nothing beats learning from your own mistakes. Which brings me to the point: I kinda screwed up my first attempt at arugula.

You see, in my previous grows I had stacked my two takeout containers filled with soil during germination and added a pretty hefty candle on top of the top container for extra weight. This had worked well for broccoli, radish and peas in particular. With the broccoli and radish I had lost a few seeds here and there that stuck to the top container, but overall I still had plenty of seeds left over.

But when I went to check on my recently planted arugula seeds to give them a misting of water after a day or so, I noticed that some pretty large clumps of soil and seeds from the bottom container stuck to the top container. All told, about half of my seeds were displaced from the soil!

It may have been that the soil on the bottom container was too moist and sticky or that the arugula seeds are too delicate and small and so they’re more easily taken from the surface. Maybe a combination of both.

EDIT: In retrospect, the error appears to be in removing the top container for a watering and disturbing the seeds prematurely. In the end, I decided to re-stack the containers and let them germinate that way until they’re ready for sunlight.

Today’s Harvest: Mild Mix

This morning I harvested a takeout container full of Mild Mix containing beet, cabbage, khourabi, pak choi and swiss chard.

I had planted the seeds about 13 days earlier, so it was a longer grow than I had experienced for broccoli, radish and the spicy mix that I previously grew. The beet and swiss chard seeds in particular seemed to take longer to germinate than the others. And in the future, I may give those two varieties even more time to grow.

But the results were still pretty good! I added a nice handful to a smoothie, along with kale, banana, mango, strawberry and peaches.

Micro Recipe: Bagel + Smoked Salmon + Cream Cheese + Microgreens

This is another super simple and extremely delicious breakfast item that incorporates microgreens.

What you’ll need:

  • Bagel
  • Cream Cheese
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Microgreens

That’s it! The microgreens add a nice bit of freshness to an old classic. I used radish in mine and the sharpness and crunchiness of the greens really balanced out the rich cream cheese and savory salmon nicely.

Seed Review: Sustainable Sprout

As a beginner grower, it can be difficult to choose the best microgreen seed to get you started.

As I looked online for my first seeds, I had a few things in mind. One, I wanted to be able to try my hand at growing a few different varieties of microgreens without committing to large quantities. I also wanted to get my hands on some “beginner friendly” varieties. From what I had read, sunflower could be tricky to manage, so I was looking for broccoli, radish and maybe a few mixes thrown in as well.

After doing some looking, I found Sustainable Sprout on Amazon. The reviews were good and the packaging art caught my eye. I figured why not and ordered their grab bag of 5 seed packets. For the record, I’m in no way affiliated with Sustainable Sprout and am simply writing this review to share my experience. And to be even more honest, I’m not really into Amazon as a company and will be trying in the future to purchase seeds through other retailers.

Anyway, the seeds soon arrived and I eagerly drilled some holes in some takeout containers to get my growing environment prepared. (I’ll write a future post about my indoor growing setup).

Now, one of my favorite things about these seeds is that they include idiot-proof instructions (lucky for me) on the back of their seed packets.

So, I just followed the directions on the packet and sprinkled my seeds on the dirt in my takeout container, misted them with some water and placed them under another container that served as a blackout dome.

There were 20g seeds in the radish package, which I found provided just more than needed for my takeout container. The seed density was probably higher than desirable, so next time I might use a larger container or just hold back a little of the seed.

Radish about a week in and about a day before harvest

Still, the germination rate was very high and I was pleased each time I checked back on the seeds in the subsequent days. I placed them on my windowsill after germination and within a week I had what looked like a bush of micro radish.

The greens taste great — they have a nice bite and hearty stalks that give a great crunch. I’ve used them so far in smoothies and on sandwiches.

I would highly recommend Sustainable Sprout microgreen seeds, especially for a beginner such as myself who can benefit from their clearcut directions on the packets and want to try growing a few different varieties in small quantities.

In addition to their radish seeds, I’ve also had success with their broccoli seeds and spicy mix. I am also now growing the mild mix and peas that came in the grab bag.

Have you grown seeds from Sustainable Sprout? Let me know in the comments below!

Starting the Seeds

Launching a blog is kind of similar to planting some seeds: a little bit of work with the hope that your efforts will be rewarded in the future.

One of the best things about growing microgreens is how seeds become edible plants in just a week or two.

I don’t expect this blog to grow as quickly as that, but I hope that it will eventually become a resource for all those interested in microgreens.

I’m by no means an expert grower, yet. But I’m hoping this blog can document my journey as I get going in my growing adventure. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to feature some other growers on here, too.

Cheers and happy growing!