One step up from a sprout garden are micro greens or “shoots”. These are just a little bit older plants than sprouts and grow on some kind of medium they can sink their roots into and get a bit of nutrition from, like perhaps an inch or two of potting soil in a flat tray. The baby plants are then cut off with a scissors and used in salads or stir fries. They are generally harvested at the two or three leaf stage. Sunflowers being the exception. They are harvested at the cotyledon stage as the true leaves are too tough. I have already written about growing micro greens from small seeds like radish and canola; which have become staples in my indoor garden. So good, so easy. Larger seeded plants are a different story.
There are supposedly many different large seeded plants that are easily grown as shoots; certainly any of the sprouting seed species: peas, sunflower, wheat grass, even popcorn! To be honest I haven’t had a lot of success growing large seeded micro greens and I also haven’t had a lot of success finding any that I much like to eat. Popcorn shoots tastes like raw corn only tougher. Pea shoots do not “taste like fresh garden peas”. They taste like over ripe garden peas. Yuk! The exception again being sunflower shoots which have a nice nutty taste and lovely crunch. Unfortunately for me they also seem to be the most difficult to grow.
So the trials began. (Trials in two meanings of the word: an experiment and also a difficulty!) Researching the internet I found all sorts of sites stating that sunflower shoots are “so easy” to grow. Liars. I have tried with soil. Without soil. In a special kit (which was too expensive). On paper towel. Soaked seed. Sprouted seed. Dry seed. I was not impressed by any of the results.
However I recently came across this short video from Farmer Joe. Check it out – it’s only 3 minutes.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oifWngdzwCg Well if he can teach kids to do this in a 3 min video, maybe I’ll give it another try.
Equipment: Many sites suggested using 10×20 greenhouse trays; but that makes a larger crop than I need. For my next set of trials with this process I am using three same sized Styrofoam meat trays, well washed. The one holding the soil has holes punched in it for drainage. Another one is placed beneath it to catch the drainage. I needed to create some space between the soil tray and the drain tray, so I put a couple plastic drinking straws in between them. Reusing stuff means the equipment is essentially free, but sometimes I wonder about the safety of plastics. I was glad to come across this site from David Suzuki about which ones are good to reuse. Just check the number in the recycling triangle on the item. https://studylib.net/doc/7984783/plastics-by-number—david-suzuki-foundation#
Farmer Joe’s recipe is 6 cups soil, 2 cups water, and 1cup DRY sunflower seeds. My little trays were pretty full with only 3cups of soil so I cut the recipe in half. That meant I should have used ½ cup of sunflower seed, but I only had ¼ cup so that’s what it got.
The idea of weighting down seeds which I want to grow UP seems a little counterproductive, but all the experts think it is the thing to do. I put the third tray on top of the seeded soil and put 2 cups of water into it for weight. This water will not come into contact with the seed or the soil. It is just for weight. A brick or heavy board or even a book would have worked but I decided water would spread evenly and is easy to measure. (This is an experiment. I have to measure!)
Joe says leave the weight on 2 or 3 days. Here is what we got
Unlike the sprout jar, shoots will need some light once they germinate. The cover tray was removed and the seed tray placed where it could get some light.
I found 3 Canadian companies selling sunflower seed for sprouting:
WestCoast Seeds https://www.westcoastseeds.com/shop/vegetable-seeds/microgreens-seeds/microgreen-sunflower-seeds/
Microgreens Canada https://microgreenscanada.ca/shop?keywords=sunflower&olsPage=products%2Fblack-oil-sunflower-seeds&page=2
They all have some shipping charges and my local seed house sells Mumms for the same price as their site with no shipping costs so that’s where I’ll buy more.
The crop was ready to harvest 8 days from seeding. I clipped the sprouts a bit above the soil. The shoots will keep a few days in a plastic bag or tight glass jar in the fridge. They’ll keep longer not washed, but should be washed before using. The soil and roots will go into the compost.
So what are the findings of the experiment? Well. It is possible to grow sunflower soil sprouts. I won’t worry about trying to make them grow taller as some suggest because the stems are stringy. Using less seed than recommended is a good thing – it makes it easier to clip the shoots at harvest time.
Will I repeat the experiment? Probably, but I am also have some lettuce started under my grow light, and I’m looking into some other leafy greens as well.