There have been few times the greenhouse has looked scruffier. This year I have grown a couple of tomatoes and aubergines in there, rather than transferring everything to the polytunnel, and it is true that these few lonely plants are still ripening up their fruits and looking green and healthy. But the rest of the inhabitants are not fairing so well. They are the remnants of sowing projects started and then forgotten, or the lost ones that never quite got potted on, their roots filling their tiny, dry pots while those of their luckier neighbours stretch out in the moist, nutrient-packed allotment earth. It’s all looking a bit sad and brown in there. Really it wants the big autumn clear out, but until the Mediterranean fruits have had their fill of autumn sunshine there they will stay, and there is little point in tidying around them. We are in the pre-clear out hiatus.
Instead I have decided to inject a little green into the greenhouse, and some good fresh flavours. Micro greens are the crops that I turn to at moments like this, when I want something satisfyingly quick, to make me feel like a good, productive gardener again. Micros are essentially seedlings of strong tasting plants. You sow them, they germinate, and then they grow for a few days. Then you drag them out of the earth (or, less dramatically, just snip them off at compost level) and eat them. There is nothing to micros, in terms of substance. Yes they will be packed with all of those thrusting, just-germinated nutrients and amino acids and that can’t be a bad thing, but they certainly wont fill you up.
What they will do though is provide a very satisfying burst of flavour, and clean, bright flavour at that. These little seedlings contain a real punch of flavour, almost as if the concentrated essence of the entire plant was held within, and being so young and fresh they often have not yet developed notes of bitterness or soapiness that can come along with maturity. Good plants to use are those that have strong flavours. All of the leafy herbs are perfect: coriander, chervil, basil and dill will all produce beautiful micros. But they are not the only ones to consider.
Strongly tasking greens such as rocket, watercress and red mustard are also good and there are a number of vegetables that are very worth trying, in particular pea, beetroot, radish, celery and fennel (beetroot is particularly great for making a brightly coloured shoot that looks very pretty indeed, as well as tasty earthy and beetrooty). I have sown rocket, radish and pea. Rocket micros are peppery, radish micros even more so, and hot too. Pea micros are a slightly different beast, cool and crunchy and very pea-like. All should be sown thickly over a wide surface area – a seed tray is ideal. Water them daily and they will be ready to eat between 5 and 14 days later.
Micros are used as accents, in sandwiches or on tops of salads. They are sprinkled at the last moment and never cooked; cooking would trash their flavours. And I like to start sowing them now, as they are a crop that you can keep on sowing all the way through autumn, winter and early spring. I have started these in the greenhouse as the weather is still warm but later on I will do it indoors, moving production back out when spring comes. It’s a great way of keeping something green and alive in the greenhouse when all else is brown and dead.