Greens in the dead of winter

If you’re a food gardener, you’re probably counting the weeks until you can start your seeds and are already dreaming of your first fresh garden salad of the season. But what if you could easily produce salad greens right now?
You can, and the miracle green is pea shoots. You don’t need low tunnels, cold frames or even artificial lights to grow these delightfully delicious and nutritious shoots in your home. It’s also very cost effective as a few dollars of materials will produce $20 or more of product at retail prices.
Shoots are sometimes mentioned interchangeably with sprouts. Both are highly nutritious and easy to grow but are distinct and grown differently. Sprouts are essentially the initial developing root system of the plant, are grown in jars or special containers and can be harvested in days.
Shoots are grown in a growing medium, have developed roots and are growing stems and initial leaves (and in the case of peas, tendrils) and typically take two to three weeks from planting to harvest. Think of them as teenage plants versus baby plants.
Pea seeds for shoot production are available at most garden stores or seed companies. My favorite is the Dwarf Grey Pea, but other varieties will work. Here’s how to do it.
Use a standard 10-20-inch growing flat, and fill it with potting soil. Don’t worry about holes in the flat as you really don’t need drainage for this.
Spread up to a cup (8 oz.) of pea seeds as evenly as possible over the surface of the flat. The flat should be fairly full. Just don’t have seeds piled on top of each other.
Water and cover with a shallow growing flat placed right side up as if you were stacking the two flats. To create this shallow flat, simply cut the top off a standard flat so it is no more than one-inch deep.
Place in a cool spot. As the seeds germinate and start to grow (3-5 days), they will push up the shallow flat cover. Once they do that, give them another watering if needed. Keep moist but not wet.
Then turn the top flat over so it’s upside down. Let the shoots continue to grow until they start to push up that top flat (another 2-4 days), then replace that with a standard 2 1/2-inch deep flat, also upside down, again watering if needed.
Don’t skip this step as the two flats are a simple but effective means to “cap” the shoots and keep them growing at a uniform rate to produce a lush, even, easily harvested crop. Without them you may have a scraggly mess with shoots of all different heights.
Once the shoots start to push up the top flat (another 2-4 days) remove it, and put the shoots next to a window. Keep them moist and watch them grow for a few more days, turning the flat daily to keep them growing straight.
In as little as 10-14 days total you will have a flat full of sweet, highly nutritious 6-8-inch shoots.
It’s that simple. Harvest with scissors, leaving the bottom 2-3 inches so you will get a second “come again” crop.
Mix the shoots with winter veggies such as beets and carrots, apple or pear slices and nuts for a fresh salad to get you through the winter. They’re also great on sandwiches, as garnishes and even stand up to a quick stir-fry. Enjoy!
Gordon Clark is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from Burlington.

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