I have been getting hands-on with the fashionable gardening trend of micro-leaves and they are not only tasty and nutritious but very easy to grow.
These micros are vegetable or herb seedlings that are grown in trays and then harvested when they are at the young and tender stage, usually within one to three weeks of sowing. These micro-leaves are regularly seen in fancy restaurants and popular among many leading chefs, with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Gordon Ramsay known to be big fans.
I find it highly impressive that the seedlings have not only the taste, but also the nutritional values, of the mature vegetables. They are indeed packed full of nutrients and also highly attractive, as well as being very simple to grow and harvest.
There is a wide range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs that can be grown as micro-leaves. Personally I regularly harvest the likes of rocket, radish and mustard as well as brassicas such as kale, cabbage and pak choi. When it comes to herbs I handle such ones as lemon balm, mint, and parsley. I must add this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of what could be used.
It is a time-consuming process that requires daily cropping and checks as well as weekly sowing, where up to 50 seed trays need to be filled with compost and sown. As you can guess it requires a lot of seed compost and attention to detail, with each different variety requiring a different density of sowing and covering requirements.
The micro-leaves do need to be grown indoors and it is simply a case of scattering the seed on a seed tray filled with compost (ideally seed compost). You then cover the seeds with a fine layer of sieved compost and then put in a warm and light spot to germinate. The signs of germination will show within days and, depending on the crop, you could be harvesting as soon as a week later.
It is best to water the seedlings by sitting the tray in a water bath, especially after germination. At the start it helps avoid washing the seeds around the tray and, after they have grown, it helps to avoid damping off – which is a fungal issue that affects seedling sown indoors causing them to collapse and decay – by allowing the water to soak up rather that saturate the surface and allow fungal spores to thrive.
Once the micro-leaves are ready to harvest – normally when they have stems around 3-5cm and their first leaves – you simply cut them with a pair of clean scissors and try to use them as soon as possible after cropping.
Personally I find the process highly interesting, but the process does need attention as seed trays can dry out quickly and you also need to check for signs of pests or disease (such as damping off or mould growing on the tray).
I have obviously been experiencing these micro-leaves on a large-scale; however it is a process that can be scaled down for use in cooking at home. A couple of trays with a couple of crops and it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience – they look good and taste great.