Micro management

Mark Diacono gets to grips with microleaves.

Words & Pictures: Mark Diacono

If you grow only one thing, let it be microleaves. Although they are just seedlings of vegetables or herbs we usually harvest when larger, many are so much fuller flavoured when harvested 5-8cm tall, with just a pair of leaves showing.

What makes microleaves so special is their intensity – the best are concentrated, clean, punchy versions of their fully grown selves, and once tasted you may well find you have no need to grow some of them any larger.

Fennel, rocket, chervil, sorrel, coriander, the oriental leaves and radish are particularly fine as microleaves. Experiment as you like – most of the aromatic and/or more intense flavours usually work best, but do avoid parsnip as these are supposedly poisonous. Do try red cabbage or red amaranth too – their colour adds a splash in with the green leaves.

Harvesting the plants at such a young age can be a bit of a cultural shift for some, but once tasted you’ll be persuaded. Coriander is the one to try first. Most of us have tried growing it, nursed a healthy plant up to size, taken a cut for a curry or a salsa and watched the plant run to seed – a few months wait for one lunch. Grown as micros, coriander is ready in 10-20 days (it takes a little longer to germinate than some). Pick a single micro and chew it at the front of your mouth (where you have most tastebuds) and marvel at the flavour. Coriander micros have everything we love about coriander in abundance – that gorgeous, aromatic punch, but delivered with much more intensity, and without the soapiness that can detract from larger coriander leaves.

As well as being wonderful on the tongue, microleaves are a quick pleasure, ready in no time. This breeds confidence: when you can taste the finest coriander, radish or rocket you’ve ever had only a week into growing your own food, you’re very likely to get the bug and carry on.

Growing

Growing microleaves is very simple. Sow seeds in a seed tray or guttering and in 7-20 days (quick in the summer, slower in winter) you’ll be snipping sensational seedlings.

I’d really recommend you try guttering to grow your microleaves in – its curved profile sits in the hand well, exposes more of the black plastic to the sun (speeding growth) and saves compost compared to a square-bottomed tray. Cut two pieces of guttering to the width of your window sill, and fill with a good, peat free seed compost, leaving a couple of cm at the top and 8cm or so at either end to allow for compost expansion on watering. Sprinkle a line of seed along the centre of the guttering. No special seed is required, just the seed you would sow normally for that plant. Water very lightly but frequently.

In spring and summer germination is rapid and you should be harvesting within a week.

A handy tip: sow one guttering this week and a second next week, for a successional harvest.

Harvesting

You can pluck micros from the guttering, wiping off the compost, but most find it more convenient to harvest with scissors to give a clean cut and avoid the need for washing them.

When you’re growing microleaves for the first time, try a few when they are very small and let some grow on a little to see where you prefer the flavour and texture.

Grow your microgreens in lengths of ordinary guttering from hardware stores or try these easy to use window sill propagators:

Suttons Seed Kit
Chlorophylle Microgreens
Fairway Microgreens
Sarah Raven Gutterpipe planters