Grow Your Own Sunflower Shoots

Of all the microgreens and shoots out there, sunflower shoots may just be king of the windowsill.  Easy to grow, quick to mature, a snap to harvest and totally nutritious!  If you haven’t tried growing your own sunflower shoots, it may be the new winter food you have been looking for.  What exactly are sunflower shoots?

Sunflower shoots are the young, edible seedlings of sunflower plants.  Within a weeks time, a batch of sunflower shoots are ready.  A nutritional powerhouse, they are full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and protein.  They are also considered a complete protien.   Check out the impressive nutritional information at Markito Nutrition.  As for taste, they are crunchy with a pleasant nutty flavor.  They almost have a succulent quality about them.  In the article A Salad’s Surprise Shot of Flavor, chef Robert Newton says, “They taste like a sunflower seed, kind of, but with chlorophyll.”  I would have to agree!

Start with some sunflower seeds.

It is said that you can use black oil sunflower seeds for growing.  If food safety is a concern, purchase seed from a reputable sprout company that tests for food-borne pathogens.  The Sprout House is a good company.  I’m sure there are many sellers out there.  At Savvy Gardening, they recommend a 12 hours soak for the seeds, then another rinse and soak.  I’ve had great result without even soaking but it would probably speed things along.

Planting shoots and microgreens.

Sunflower shoots can be grown in a plant pot, seed starting tray or a recycled container.  The roots are shallow.  Just make sure you have a few inches of soil.  Use a food safe growing mix.  No fertilizer is necessary.  Press down the soil and scatter the seeds thickly across the surface of the soil.  Sprinkle additional soil over seeds.  Some growers just firmly place another tray over the seeds to block the light for a few days.  For the home grower, covering the seeds with dirt works just fine.

They are growing!

Within a few days, your little shoots will be reaching for the sun to become a thick sunflower shoot forest!  You can even have a few batches going at once for a continual harvest.

Sunflower shoots emerging!

As your shoots grow, pick off the seed coats to allow them to open fully.

Sunflower forest, ready for cutting.

When the shoots are at 4″ or so, cut them with scissors.  Always wash shoots in cool water and store in a bag.  They will last when stored in this way for a few weeks.  Don’t allow them to grow beyond the shoot stage.

Give Shoots a thorough washing.

Sunflower shoots make a fantastic plant to grow with children.  The seeds are big enough for even the tiniest of hands to grasp and they love watching the fat seedlings rise up through the soil.  Getting my son to even try them is another story all together!

Salad garnished with shoots and microgreens!

Typical uses for sunflower shoots are salads, sandwiches, smoothies and can be used as a garnish.  But, think beyond this.  Try them as a substitute for bean sprouts.  Throw them last minute into a stir-fry.  Use them anywhere you think they will compliment the meal.  Sunflower shoots are an excellent way to get through the winter and a wonderful addition to your winter windowsill garden!

For more information on shoots and microgreens, go to my articles Easily Grow Windowsill Microgreens or Grow Pea Shoots in 4 Super Easy Steps.  Thank you for joining me this week at Everlongardener and happy growing!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Easily Grow Windowsill Microgreens

With the snow starting to fly outside, many of us are suddenly spending less time in the garden and way more time indoors.  For those of you who can’t get enough of gardening, why not try growing some nutritious windowsill micro greens this winter season?  No grow lights, no greenhouse, just your windowsill!

Many vegetables are hard to grow inside, but not micro greens!  By using minimal equipment, you can grow a wide array of micro greens on your windowsill.  Very little space or skill is required.  With a harvest time of around ten days for some plants, you can easily be eating your greens again in no time!

Microgreens used on top of a salad.

Micro greens are actually the shoots of certain salad vegetables.  Unlike sprouts, they are grown in soil.  Seeds of kale, lettuce, chard, beets, arugula, spinach and radishes can be used.  This winter, I’m trying sunflower shoots for the first time.  Basil, orach and sorrel are on my list too.  Micro green seed mixtures can be purchased from garden centers, seed companies or from Amazon.  I got some from the Sprout House.  They range from mild to spicy and can compliment Asian, French or Mediterranean cuisines.  If you have left over garden seed, try making up your own mixture.  There are slow and fast growing types.  The Johnny’s seed catalog has a great chart about growth rates.  Just make sure your mixtures accommodate the growth rate.  I did a slow tray and a fast tray.

Add soil to container.

To start growing your own windowsill micro greens, you will need 5 basic things: soil, containers, seeds, water and sun.  Choose a growing mix that you would want to grow food in.  Seeds can be planted in trays or any containers that you may already have.  Lettuce or mushroom containers work very well.  You may want to add drainage holes and a tray under the containers.

Soil is all ready!

After adding soil, sprinkle the seeds over the surface.

Closeup of the seeds!

Cover lightly with more soil.  We used the hand seed sower to mix and distribute the seeds.  This way there were no spills or waste.  Gently water the containers.  Position in a south-facing window.

Tiny seedling pushing through the dirt!

In a few days, you will notice the tiny seedlings emerging from the soil.  Keep moderately moist and turn containers as the plants tend to reach for the sun.

Microgreens ready for cutting!

Micro greens are ready for use when they are between 1/2 to 2″ tall and leaves are formed.  Cut with scissors and wash before use.  They can be used for 5 to 10 days depending on conditions.  Micro greens will usually grow again, so keep them watered for a subsequent harvest!

Striking red chard Microgreens!

Many growers are selling micro greens at local markets and to restaurants.  Use micro greens in addition or in place of salad greens.  Add to green drinks and smoothies or use as a garnish.  They are totally versatile so it’s only limited to your imagination!  Micro greens are packed with high levels of healthy nutrients and contain Vitamin C, E, Beta carotene and more.  Some of them even have protein.  For more growing info, go to my post How to Grow Microgreens in 4 Easy Steps or the book Microgreens by Eric Franks.

Salad with microgreens!

It may be one of the latest trends in home gardening but I think you will find growing windowsill micro greens brings a little of the summer indoors during these colder months.  Let me know if you have any experience growing micro greens.  Leave a comment below if you have any questions or ideas!  I would love to hear from you!  Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for weekly gardening inspiration!  Thank you for coming along this week and get growing!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

How To Grow Lettuce

What vegetable do you think we could potentially spend the most money on in a year?  I haven’t done any calculations but I feel that salad greens are high on the list.  If you’ve read my very first post Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen you know that I’m all about the salad greens.  I believe that anyone can grow delicious greens even if you just have a small space.  The fancy triple washed salad mixes at the grocery store are lovely but they are no match for what you could be growing right in your own back or front yard!

Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.
Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

As you may already know, I aim to have salad greens all year long.  It’s just my thing.  Now, you may be saying that it’s easy to grow lettuce in early spring and in the fall but that summer heat makes your greens bolt.  I understand, I’ve been there.  Some people like to grow head lettuce and that’s fine.  For me, leaf lettuce works best.  You can start harvesting a few weeks after planting and you have a large window of time for picking.

Baby summer lettuce.
Baby summer lettuce.

One major thing that allows me to have a decent crop through the summer is lettuce variety.  Many seed catalogs sell slow-to-bolt types.  This takes a bit of planning because not all garden centers will sell seeds specifically for hot weather.  I order my ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco Seeds ahead of time to ensure my lettuce harvest.  A few other varieties include ‘New Red Fire’, ‘Slobolt’ and ‘De Morges Braun’.  The many other seed catalogs I have also listed summer varieties.  Just read descriptions and you’ll find some that suit your needs.  Slow bolting salad greens are a wonderful addition to the garden.  They retain good flavor instead of turning bitter.

Other veggies go really well in a salad mix.  I use small beet leaves, garlic chives, pea shoots and baby chard.  This adds color, texture and lots of flavor.  Mustard greens and kale can be added too.  Whatever you have.

Beet greens can be added to summer salad mix.
Beet greens can be added to summer salad mix.

Planting

Summer lettuce seeds can be planted in spring as soon as the ground can be worked.  Wait until a sufficient amount of moisture has left the soil.  I can plant my raised beds fairly early.  Lettuce can be started indoors but direct seeding is pretty easy.  If you haven’t planted any greens yet, it’s not too late.  Plant seeds 1/8” deep, 1” apart and 12-18” between rows.  Keep soil moist while germinating.  Planting in a 2-4” band also works well for leaf lettuce production.  Lettuce germinates well between 45-75 degrees.

Succession planting is also a great way to ensure a continual harvest.  I usually keep my seeds handy and if I have a few minutes, I run out and plant a row.  As I rip spent lettuce out, I plant more in it’s place.

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Harvest

The best time to pick lettuce or any leafy green for that matter, is in the morning.  Anytime before 10:00 a.m.  If it’s a cloudy day, anytime of day will generally be fine.  As the day goes on, the sun makes the plants wither a bit.  Wilted lettuce is nearly impossible to revive.  So, pick at it’s peak.  Get out there in your pj’s if you can for the best time of day to harvest.  On hot days, I’ve even put cold water in my bowl to immediately submerge them.  This is a huge help.  Then I rush them inside to wash them and get them in the fridge.

Scissors, pinching with your fingers or a knife are all acceptable picking methods.  For my very long harvest window, I prefer using a lettuce knife.  This knife is not at all necessary but it makes nice, clean cuts.  I think that I purchased mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds many years ago.

Using my Victorinox serrated harvest knife.
Using my Victorinox serrated harvest knife.

For leaf lettuce, simply cut all outer leaves of adequate size.  Try to pick clean.  There is not need to leave good greens.  This will also encourage new growth.  Sometimes I have to pick every other day.

Washing and Storing

Washing your salad greens is very important.  I use two different size salad spinners.  For the quantity that I grow this just makes sense.  You can always use a colander to drain the greens and gently remove water with a towel.  There is the old trick of filling a clean kitchen towel with wet greens, going outside and winding your arm around like a windmill.  (Insert instructional video here!)  Just kidding!  Works like a charm but maybe not always convenient!

When summer and winter lettuce are harvested simultaneously!
When summer and winter lettuce are harvested simultaneously!

Once the greens are sufficiently dry, place them in a bag that can be sealed.  Placing a paper towel in the bag prolongs there fridge life.  Leave some air in the bag also.  Homegrown salad greens last so much longer than store bought greens.  My mother once found a bag of my salad in her refrigerator two weeks after I had visited and they were still fine.

A salad elevates your meal to five star quality!
A salad elevates your meal to five star quality!

Salad green production is my favorite part of vegetable gardening.  I feel spoiled with all of the high quality greens that I get to eat.  With a little effort, you too can be downing daily salads that cost you no more than a packet of seeds.  This will not be the last post on salad greens.  There is so much more to share.  But for now, think about adding lettuce to your summer garden.  You’ll be glad that you did!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Grow Pea Shoots In 4 Super Easy Steps

Want to add something unexpected to your spring salad?  We started growing pea shoots in our garden a number of years ago.  After seeing them for sale at a local farm stand, it seemed like a great addition to my salad greens mixture. They add a whole different dynamic to the salad mix.  They have a pleasant pea flavor that compliments the other greens.  Today, I’m taking you through 4 super easy steps to grow your own pea shoots!

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The benefits of growing pea shoots are that they are rich in nutrients like microgreens and they can be harvested in about 14 days.  I was reading on http://www.healthdiaries.com that they abound in folate, antioxidants, carotene, phytonutrients, vitamins A, C and K.  What a list!  Shoots can be added to smoothies, salads, sandwiches and stirfrys.  They can even be used as a substitute for other greens in recipes. Sometimes when I plant peas to climb and grow to maturity, I use one section of them just for shoots and use them till they get too tough.

Soaking the peas!
Soaking the peas!

So, let’s get into these rediculously easy steps to pea shoot happiness. For materials you will need: a bowl big enough to accommodate swelling seeds, a clean growing container, soil, pea seeds ( I used ‘Sugar Ann’), soil and water.

Look at those little shoots!
Look at those little shoots!

Here are the steps!

  1. Presoak peas in water for a day or so to help them sprout.  If you skip this step, it just takes a little longer for them to germinate.
  2. Add about 2″ of soil to a container.  I used a lettuce container with some holes in the bottom.  Use the lid for a tray underneath.
  3. Evenly scatter pea seeds over soil, cover with more soil.  Use some soil that you would want to eat the plants from.   Some people do not cover with soil, that’s up to you.
  4. Genly water your little seeds and wait.  Water every couple of days.  Stick your finger in to see the moisture level.  Too much water can lead to mold.  Your harvest will be ready soon!  I use scissors to cut the vines and can get multiple harvests from one planting.  Store in the fridge and wash right before use.
Shoots, roots and all!
Shoots, roots and all!

Instead of a traditional crop where you must wait months to enjoy, growing these quick and useful crops in small quantities is pure instant gratification!  For more useful indoor growing tips, check out my previous posts How To Grow Microgreens In 4 Easy Steps or Making Your Own Terrarium.

Beautiful and delicious pea shoots!
Beautiful and delicious pea shoots!

We’ve had a bit of a cold snap here in Maine.  Last week I was out working in my flower beds wearing one layer, this week I’m back in my hat, mittens and winter coat!  The greenhouse was over 100 degrees yesterday though.  Hope you try growing some pea shoots!  They will bring a smile to your face for sure!  Thanks for reading my blog today.  If you subscribe, you’ll never miss the latest posts!  Don’t forget to follow along with me on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Making Your Own Terrarium

If you haven’t noticed, it seems that people have really become obsessed with terrariums in recent years.  You can find pictures of them inhabiting all shapes and sizes of containers.  Fish tanks, apothecary jars, wine glasses.  You can even use an old lightbulb!

I’m not really sure that they ever really went out of style. With beginnings way back in the 1800’s, growing under or in glass came about by accident.  I knew they were loved by the Victorians but what I read was really fascinating.  On the site http://terraruims.net I found some history of a Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a London physician who discovered that his ferns grew so much better in jars.  The high levels of pollution from nearby factories was too hard on the plants so Dr. Ward used fern cases or Wardian cases.  With this invention, specimens could be brought from exotic locations and preserved during the voyage.  This obviously introduced tropical plants to the masses.  Soon every self-respecting home could have their own terrarium!

All the materials for our terrarium!

Earlier this winter I was feeling the need for green plants.  We haven’t had a terrarium in a while so I thought it would be a fun winter project for my four year old and me.  We already had a large glass fish bowl for a container. This was a great excuse to visit our local greenhouse for a few plants.  Any excuse to be immersed in a warm, tropical environment!  Of course my son wanted to buy everything but we only really needed four or five plants.  I was looking for color, texture, height and something to creep along as a ground cover.

My helpers tools and decorations.
My helpers tools and decorations.

You will need at the very least a glass container, soil, gravel, plants, moss, tools and decorative items of your choice.  Many instructions call for adding activated charcoal.  This may sound a bit unnecessary but it can help with toxins, odors, chemicals and drainage issues that can harm the plants over time.  In the end I opted to not buy the charcoal.  I guess I’m too cheap!

Place small stones in bottom.
Place small stones in bottom.
Adding the soil.
Adding the soil.

We placed a few inches of stones in the bottom of our glass fishbowl, then added some soil.  For the plants we picked a Prayer plant, a variegated broadleaf plant with reddish undersides,  a ‘White Rabbit’s Foot’ fern, a Monkey plant which has pink flowers and my favorite, Baby’s Tears.  I could bore you with all the correct names but I will spare you.  Just pick what you like and plants with similar light requirements.

Planting time.
Planting time.

Place the plants where you want them and secure them with more soil.  Gently add water.  Now it’s time to personalize your little world!  Shells, rocks, marbles, driftwood…you name it.  Whatever you want it to look like.  Elegant or quirky.  We of course chose the dinosaurs to live in our little miniature tropical environment.  Since the terrarium will have its own water cycle, try not to over water but be careful it doesn’t dry out.  Trim any dead leaves to keep your plants looking their best.

The completed terrarium!
The completed terrarium!

There are so many resources out there to find inspiration for your terrarium.   Simply type in the word ‘terrarium’ and you will find a ton of info.    Pinterest was loaded with detailed how too’s and lots of beautiful pictures.

This was a great little winter project and we are still enjoying our spherical garden.  What is your favorite indoor winter gardening thing to do?  Feel free to leave a comment.  Subscribe via email, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest or Bloglovin!  Thanks for joining me this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

 

How To Grow Microgreens in 4 Easy Steps

You may have had them.  You may have just only heard of them.  You might think they are only served in some restaurant that you can’t afford.  I’m here to tell you my friend, that you can grow microgreens with ease in your own home.  No fancy equipment.  No greenhouse needed.  Just dirt, a container, seeds, water and sun!  Yes, you can grow microgreens in 4 easy steps!

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Although people have been growing microgreens for some time now, it seems the term keeps popping up everywhere.  From something to throw in your smoothie to a side salad to go along with a choice cut of beef, micro greens have become very popular.  There are a few reasons for this: 1. Easy to grow.  2. Harvest time is just ten days or so.  3. Small seedlings contain mega amounts of nutrients.  Have I convinced you yet?

Basic items to grow some microgreens.
Basic items to grow some microgreens.

This is the method that I used.  I saved a few mushroom containers, about two inches high.  Drainage holes didn’t seem to be an issue for such a short growing period but that’s up to you.

Add soil to container.
Add soil to container.

I placed some growing mix in the containers and did a broadcast of seeds covering them lightly with about 1/8″ of soil.  In a recent trip to my local garden center I picked up a packet of micro greens mix.  Just a nice mixture of seeds chosen for color and taste.  You can easily just mix up some seeds from any that you have and it will all work out fine.  Now it seems time to gently water your containers of microgreen seeds.  Keep soil moist but not too wet.  In two days the seeds should be pushing up through the soil.  It’s really quite exciting how quickly these guys come up.  After about ten days or so the greens should be ready to be cut.  Scissors work well.  Don’t feel that you need to cut them all that day.  The harvest can be spread out over a few days.  I actually use one container at a time.

Tiny seedling pushing through the dirt!
Tiny seedling pushing through the dirt!

After cutting the greens I noticed a small amount of grit so I put them in my salad spinner for a bath.  They held up quite well.  I used my smaller spinner because of the smaller holes.  Once dry, you can place them in a plastic bag or airtight container and store in your crisper for quite a while.  Water your containers again, you may get a second or third harvest!

Micro greens ready for cutting!
Micro greens ready for cutting!

There are quite a few types of seeds that work great for this.  In my research I came up with kale, spinach, peas, radish, lettuce, beets and chard to name a few. The mixture that I used had a lot of these in it.  You can even add herbs.  I think that a handpicked mixture might be better but it was fun to see how the packet turned out.

Microgreens used on top of a salad.
Microgreens used on top of a salad.

I’ve read a few articles on the benefits of adding microgreens to your diet and the stats seem pretty impressive.  Unlike sprouts micro greens need soil and sunlight.  They contain up to 4-6 times the nutrients of full grown plants.  They are high in vitamin C, E, Beta carotene and some have protein, all depending on where, when and what type of soil used.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or experiences with growing microgreens.  Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.  Follow me on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram @everlongardener.  Thanks for reading my gardening blog!

Hilary|Everlongardener