The COVID-19-induced lockdown encouraged many people to pursue hobbies and other activities they had been putting off due to lack of time. While art and craft or music and dance were what a section of people took to, there were many who turned to nature and productive activities. Microgreen farming was one such activity that caught up instantly, especially among urban residents.
Easy to grow and quick to harvest, microgreens can be cultivated in your kitchen space or even your office cubicle by placing a few seeds on a wet tissue paper. Tiny plants that are older than a sprout but younger than a sapling, microgreens contain 10-40 times vital nutrients compared to their fully grown plants. They are delicious and can be a great choice for fussy eaters.
What does one need to get started with microgreens? “Good quality seeds, shallow trays with drain holes, a ventilated space to keep them and a wet towel or polythene sheet to retain humidity,’’ says Vinod Chakravarti of Bengaluru. Chakravarti, a former vice president for SBI Mutual Fund, is now a farming guru. Hyperfarms, a startup co-founded by Chakravarti grows and sells microgreens on a large scale.
Chakravarti recommends soaking the seeds before sowing as it helps speeding the germination process. “But even if not soaked they’ll come fine,’’ he says.
These superfoods do not even need soil to grow. One can grow them on wet tissue papers. But Chakravarti who likes getting his hands a bit dirty while growing plants prefers cocopeat or even a mix of cocopeat with a little bit of top soil or compost. The plants can be grown throughout the year. However, the germination time may vary depending on seed variety and temperature.
According to experienced farmers, mustard and radish are the best seeds to start with. Sabitha Sawariya, a bridal and celebrity artist based in Kochi who got into microgreen farming a few months ago adds two more to the list: Mung bean and buckwheat. “I grow radish, ragi, wheatgrass, mustard, flax, peas, corn mong and spinach microgreens,” says Anamika Bist, an NIFT graduate with 21 years experience in retail sector who is now involved with green initiatives, sustainable workshops and community farming. “Kids love peas and sunflower microgreens,’’ she says.
Regular kitchen seeds like methi, sunflower and pumpkin seeds can be used for microfarming. “Amaranth, arugula, beets, basil, all types of lettuces, kale, cabbage, broccoli, the list is almost endless! One simple thumb rule … if the seed is edible, so is its microgreen,’’ says Chakravarti. ‘’Most of the time, beginners make the mistake of over watering and not under watering, which may result in moulds or fungi. Once you have the hang of microgreen farming, you can move on to some exotic ones like red radish sango, nasturtium, etc,’’ he adds.
Make sure to cover the tray after sowing the seeds. Once the seeds sprout, they may be exposed to sunlight and watered everyday. Most microgreens love to have around 8 hours of shaded sunlight. However, unlike regular plants, they don’t need any nutrients other than water to supplement their growth, which is one of the factors that has made them a popular choice among urban farmers.
Growing your own microgreens on your kitchen window sill can be immensely rewarding, says Rajani Vaidya, a nutritionist based in Bengaluru. “Recent studies have shown that microgreens have many times more anti oxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K, and carotenoids, the substance that is good for eyesight and skin, among other things, when compared to mature plants. They are a fun way to make up for vitamin, mineral or anti oxidant deficiency in our daily diet.’’ she says adding that they should be consumed as soon as possible after harvest.
Manjari Chandra, consultant ,therapeutic and functional nutrition at Max Healthcare includes kale, lettuce, spinach and red radish microgreens in her diet. The presence of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients in microgreens help in neutralizing toxins, purifying liver and strengthening immune system, says Manjari. “They control blood sugar, prevent and fight cancer, improve cardiovascular health, vision and cognitive functions, stabilize hormones, rejuvenate skin and help maintain healthy bones and teeth. Microgreens are a great choice for people looking to lose weight as well,’’ says Manjari.
Microgreens can be incorporated in salads, smoothies and sandwiches. Simran Oberoi Multani, founder of Ovenderful and Ovenderful Mom Bakers Community was thrilled to discover that there is a huge range of micro greens that one can grow and use and that they can lift some of the simplest dishes into another level due to the flavour they add. “One does not have to be restricted to just a couple of types of microgreens. It opened my mind up to a lot of possibilities in terms of how I can fortify the food we eat with a simple addition of these fresh greens. They are such a refreshing addition to my food. Dishes which have been slightly richer in texture have been balanced by the lightness and those which were already light have got more dimensions like a new texture,’’ she says.
Experimenting with microgreens has been a great learning experience for her. She has realised that the fresh greens pair very well with seeds and nuts. “That has a big advantage of being able to create yum snacking options for adults and children alike.’’