Down to Earth - by Madison Co. Master Gardeners

Master Gardener

Growing Green

What do basil, beets, and broccoli have in common?  They can all be grown and eaten as greens.  "Sprouts", the most familiar category of greens, are harvested shortly after the seed germinates.  "Microgreens", another type of greens that are gaining popularity, are harvested after the first leaves, or cotyledons, open.  The third type of greens, "baby greens" are allowed to grow to a height of 4 to 5" after the second, or "true", leaves have appeared.
Of the three, microgreens are the most nutritionally potent.  For example, 1 1/2 cups of full-grown broccoli has the same amount of phytonutrients as just one ounce of broccoli four days after germination.  Phytonutrients are naturally occurring substances in plants that may help fight disease.
Microgreens are tender and highly flavorful.  They are an easy way to add fresh vegetables to your diet year round.  Just toss a few on your sandwich or include them in your salad.  Instead of lettuce, think amaranth, arugula, basil, beet, broccoli, purple cabbage, celery, chard, cilantro, endive, mustard, bok choi, peas, and radish.  They can all be harvested as microgreens.
Growing your own microgreens makes it possible to consume them within minutes of harvesting, reducing the loss of vitamins and minerals that typically occurs during transport and storage of commercially grown greens.  Grow them indoors or outdoors with minimal investment and space.  And growing microgreens is a kid-friendly project.  A tray of microgreens growing on the deck is a visible reminder that food comes from the soil, not the grocery aisle.
Find a container with drainage holes and a clear lid.  Re-purposed plastic containers from store bought lettuce mixes or berries work well.  Fill it with high quality potting soil to within 1" of the top, leaving a least 2" of soil as growing medium.  Press a piece of cardboard cut to the size of your tray over the soil to create a flat, firm seed bed.  Select quality seeds for a high, even germination rate.  Sow the seeds evenly over the entire tray.  Use the cardboard again to lightly set the seeds in the soil.  Cover the seeds with a paper towel.  Gently shower the towel with water until the soil underneath is thoroughly soaked.  Cover with a lid.  Placing the container on an electric heat mat will speed germination.  Keep the lid and towel in place until the seeds are fully germinated, then remove the lid and towel to provide sunlight or artificial grow lights.  Continue to water.  Microgreens are delicate, but will thrive if the water pH is between 6 and 7.
Microgreens are ready to harvest after the first leaves have developed.  Using well sharpened scissors, cut about one inch above the soil.  Place the microgreens in a tub and rinse them in cool water.  Seed hulls will float to the top and soil will fall to the bottom.  Spread the washed greens on a paper towel and use a fan to remove excess moisture.  Microgreens will keep in the refrigerator in a resealable bag for 3 to 4 days.

How Are YOUR Pollinators?

Earlier this year, Blank Park Zoo and a host of collaborators launched the Plant.Grow.Fly. program designed to encourage habitat development and education about the status of pollinators in our society.  Whether or not you chose to participate in the program, this summer article encourages you to check into the pollinator plight in your back yard or back forty for yourself.  Start to look with new eyes.

  • Look for shelter like a pollinator.  Native bee and wasp nesting areas, beetle nests, and hummingbird nests usually occur in brushy and "unkempt" looking areas.  Few are impolite guests.  Indiana bats and little brown bats nest and reproduce in shaggy tree bark (hickory, often), brush piles, and in specifically-built bat houses.  Butterflies and moths need areas to sun, as well as undisturbed habitat for predator protection, chrysalis attachment , and egg laying.  Honey bees need healthy hives.  How does your area look from this perspective?  What improvements can you make?


  • Look for food like a pollinator.   Pollinators need flower nectar and pollen, and even bugs throughout their active season.  They prefer high quality pollen from plants they've formed cooperative relationships with for millennia.  That means a wide variety and long season of native plant bloom.  For the European honeybee, this means 150 million flowers for one hive to make enough honey for the winter alone.  It also means food uncontaminated by insecticides and environmental toxins.  Willy nilly application of lawn or garden pesticides at the first sign of a ragged cabbage leaf or a perfect rose blossom is counter productive for pollinators in the long run.  Refer to previous articles on Integrated Pest Management, check out ISU Extension publications on IPM, or do internet search starting with sources listed below.  Farm fields planted using seeds treated with systemic insecticides (most sunflower, canola, cotton, soybeans, and corn) create toxic deserts for insect life from below the soil to the top leaf.  Over 90% of seed corn available on the market is treated, so alternatives are hard to find.  Not only does the treated seed grow into a toxic plant, but the planting machinery uses talc to lubricate the planting process. This talc mixes with insecticide dust and blows over plants, insects, water, and animals during the planting cycle and further contaminating the environment for pollinators.  How does your area look from a safety perspective?  What improvements can you make?


  • Imagine your plate without the services pollinators, domestic or imported, perform for mankind.  One in 3 of our mouthfuls of food and drink, result from pollination other than wind.  Without pollinators, we could depend upon corn and wheat because they are wind pollinated.  In the US alone, we raise over 100 farm crops dependent upon pollination, like apples, peaches, blueberries, pumpkins, and many others.  Check out or for more information.





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