First it was baby veg; tiny immature carrots, embryonic courgettes, baby beets, weeny turnips and other developing fruits and roots, just barely recognisable. Top class chefs and star studded restaurants lightly steamed these kindergarten crops for the delectation of their clientele, while gardeners struggled with concept of harvesting hard grown crops weeks and sometimes months before maturity. Some justified this early execution of young developing talent as thinnings that would get in the way of the development of the ultimate crop, while new ‘patio gardeners’ raising their first crops in grow bags and pots achieved little more than baby carrots and tiny spuds despite all their best efforts, but could sleep easy in the knowledge that they’d saved money growing their own underdeveloped offerings and could pass them off as the latest craze in restaurant ingredients, with pride. The genuine greenhouse gardener simply looked on in amusement.
Not content with this widespread cruelty to plants and the exploitation of underage veg, the marketers regrouped, the result -micro leaves. A clever new marketing name for clinically grown, yep you’ve got it, baby leaf salad (ok with a twist). You might consider these as greenhouse bonsai fields or exotic mustard and cress, but whatever your thoughts, your greenhouse or even your windowsill is a great place to grow them and they are apparently the new ingredient in top end restaurants and delis.
What they really are are glorified sprouting seeds, which sadly have had such a bad press this season that they have been re marketed, re modelled and re launched as something entirely different. To be fair micro leaves are different, they are grown in a different way and are at least allowed to leaf up and start out in life. In fact, these little plants are grown with some additional comfort, scattered on soft, warm capillary matting (slightly posher than kitchen roll) and mollycoddled with a perspex or polythene cover/propagator lid, or whatever else comes to hand, these are more than posh seed sprouts. They germinate, root in the soft cushion and throw up their unsuspecting shoots and leaves. Within days hundreds of unsuspecting little sprouts (no not the Christmas variety!) are cut down in their prime and used as a garnish, a seasoning or just some extra colour and flavour to Michelin star recipes for discerning diners. It could be you.
Don’t think I’m not a fan of these little weeny sprouts of life. If you hanker after your very own high value fast crop it’s a better investment than most at the moment, you get quick returns and you can boast about your self-sufficiency, reduced carbon footprint and even be munching on them at Christmas. Impress your festive guests with some homegrown micro leaves, sow them now and they’ll be ready for the big day. It’s even a great way to get the kids growing. They’ll see some results in days and weeks, not months and years like some garden crops.
If you don’t have a greenhouse then put one on your Christmas list and use a windowsill to grow these little gems until it arrives. Micro leaves can be grown anywhere there is a little warmth and plenty of light. The seed is now widely available, check out Marshalls Seeds’ offering. It lists dozens of Micro-Leaf seeds with a range of flavours, colours and textures and there is a really cute set of five Micro Veg Gro-Trays with biodegradable Felt Mats and Propagator Lids to get you started. A great stocking filler available mail order to your door and you can sow the seed all through the winter, in fact all year round. Or if you are already hooked and like receiving surprises in the post, you can subscribe to a monthly microgreen growing pack from Sow Gourmet complete with sustainably sourced, recyclable micro greenhouse, biodegradable growing medium and seasonal microgreen seeds all for the price of a pint (well at London prices anyway). There’s even an online community for exchanging growing tips. What are you waiting for??