Kitchen Gardening?

Perhaps not the kitchen, but somewhere in your abode lives memories or even remnants of a new gardener's attempts at growing plants indoors. It could be a thread of macrame cord from a spider plant, or a spray bottle used for misting that finicky fern. I'd hazard to guess most of us started planting things indoors before the gardening obsession took us over completely. Where we went from there is as varied as the species we plant.

But if you suffer a winter with freezing temps, you also spend several months suffering the loss of fresh-tasting vegetables. According to Elizabeth Millard in her new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, it doesn't have to be that way.

I like that she addresses a plan. I'm a firm believer that failures are the result (partially, at least) of poor planning. Whether you're new at the whole gardening thing or would like to give the indoor venue another shot, having a plan keeps expectations real.

For example, the author asks:
  1. What do you hope to gain?
  2. How ambitious do you want to be?
  3. What's your vacation schedule like?
  4. Are you looking for indoor-only growing, or transfers between the kitchen and outdoor garden?
I've started plants indoors for eventual planting outdoors, but usually don't start up until March. As for ambitions, I'd simply like to have fresh greens, not potatoes and mushrooms. Although Millard offers great details on starting and growing these long-term commitment vegetables, I opted to achieve the easiest victory.

Microgreens is a term that wasn't around when I was a kid. I first encountered them at a restaurant where they were sprinkled atop a minute salad. My first thought was, "What cute little seedlings. But what are they doing on my food?"

I knew what a seedling looked like, after all, and that's what these were. I assumed they were edible, yet I wasn't sure what to expect, so I just doused them with dressing and dug in. I think the restaurant owner/chef should have included a little notice with the salad that said something like, "These are sprouts of radish/cabbage/carrot (or whatever) and are higher in nutrients than the actual plant. And they taste delicious."

Even the USDA sings the praises of this tiny but mighty produce. I pictured Popeye opening a tiny vial filled with spinach microgreens to give him the same walloping energy as a whole can.

I sampled a product called Microgreenz, a simple little method of growing your own microgreens. From the instructions, it seemed it couldn't be easier. I filled the ceramic tray with soilless mix, planted the seed and put it in the window. I got sprouts, but learned that just spraying the seedlings didn't provide them with enough moisture. And because the tray had no drainage, it would be easy to drown the little guys.

The chapter on microgreens in Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden alone makes the book a winner. Millard explains what they are--initial leaves of a seedling called cotyledons. She recommends beets, mustard, radish or carrot, which all sound good to me. She also suggests containers for growing them and how to make sure they're getting the right amount of moisture.

The author calls growing microgreens the ideal initial project. I really like how she shows photos of what they look like at harvest stage, and offers specific and detailed troubleshooting sections about growing microgreens, and how to use them in recipes.

And if a foray into microgreens isn't enough, there is a chapter on growing shoots, which Millard defines as just microgreens of the seeds you've chosen. She recommends peas, sunflowers, popcorn and nasturtium as making some tasty shoots for harvesting, storing and using in recipes.

I'll follow the author's advice to know the limit of your ambitions, and will stick with microgreens. But if I change my mind, I'll delve into the other chapters of her book, which include more long-term goals like fully-grown radishes, hot peppers, tomatoes and lettuces.

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