Going Green for Winter Salads

The days are getting shorter, and your commute’s done in the dark mornings and evenings. Yes, it’s November, and that means cold, dark days. While there are still many seasonal greens that you can grow in cold frames in your garden, in November thoughts tend to turn indoors. Thankfully, it’s easy to grow fresh, healthy food inside your home as well, for green winter salads.

In November and throughout the coming winter season, sprouts and microgreens are the ideal complement to the other local vegetables and preserved foods on your menu. Why grow microgreens and sprouts? Nutritionally, they’re powerhouses: as a seed begins to sprout, it releases nutrients to feed the growing plant, which in turn feed you. Sprouts are high in vitamins such as vitamin C.

Taste-wise, sprouts are a welcome addition to your winter diet. As winter approaches, the local vegetables that are available are either winter-hardy greens or storage vegetables like squash, beets, and carrots. These are delicious, but sometimes you want something that’s fresh and green. Sprouts and microgreens fill this niche with flavour.

They’re also compact. Growing sprouts and microgreens is a great way to embark on small space gardening. So many of us live in apartments, without a lot of access to outdoor gardening spaces. If you have a small outdoor space, growing microgreens and sprouts is a way to garden in the space you have available: the great indoors.

How do you get started? You can grow sprouts in any number of ways. To grow large quantities of sprouts at a time, use a plastic sprouter with drainage holes or a sprout bag that you dunk in water. Use smaller jars to grow smaller quantities of many different sprouts. Spicy, sweet, and sandwich sprout mixes are a good way to get a lot of sprouts growing at the same time.

To sprout your seeds, place your seeds in the sprouter and make sure that they’re damp. Avoid standing water: sprouts should be washed, drained, and inspected regularly to ensure that they don’t get moldy. Start small and remember that a few seeds go a long way. Several spoonfuls of seed will yield enough sprouts for a salad within a few days.

While a sprout is grown without soil and is mostly made up of a plant’s growing stem, microgreens are tiny baby greens that you harvest as the first true leaves begin to sprout. They’re grown in soil under lights. Choose a good quality, nutrient-rich potting soil and place your microgreens in a warm location where they won’t be disturbed. Add artificial lights directly on top of the seeds, and in a few days you’ll be reaping the harvest. To avoid getting a lot of soil in your salad, use kitchen scissors to snip the stems and leaves off your harvest while it’s still growing in its container.

How do you eat sprouts and microgreens? In the middle of the winter, use them in sandwiches instead of imported tomatoes or lettuce. For a local winter salad, grate raw beets, carrots, and sunchokes and add microgreens or sprouts to the mix. If you have outdoor winter vegetables like mustard greens, arugula, and kale, add a few baby leaves of these more intense flavours. Toss everything in a light dressing, add nuts or seeds, and you have a fresh and colourful salad. Thicker greens such as sunflower seed microgreens, pea sprouts, and bean sprouts are the perfect addition to a stir fry: toss them in at the last minute, just as you’re about to serve your dinner.

What could be on your winter menu?

· Alfalfa sprouts are a tasty standby, and they’re easy to grow and not too strong, ideal for those who are new to sprouting.

· Grow tiny versions of some of your favorite garden vegetables. Swiss chard microgreens are bright red, and they’re very pretty in a salad.

· Sprout mixes are an excellent choice for those who are starting out. These mixes are designed for their complementary flavours and similar growing times.

· Herb microgreens have the intense flavour of the larger plants, on a smaller scale. Add basil microgreens to a salad and enjoy.

· For those who’d like to experiment with stronger flavours, look to peppery mustard greens or cress.

· Looking for a protein hit in your sandwich or salad? Arugula, kale, and sunflower microgreens contain over 25 percent protein!

As we slide down into the darker days of the winter season, gardening doesn’t need to wane. Move it indoors, and enjoy a harvest of fresh greens from a miniature farm on your kitchen counter.

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