Lumped in with the category of micro greens, sunflower greens are really sprouts and something that anyone can grow – anywhere. There are oodles of different types and flavors of plant seedlings more popularly called sprouts that add crunch to a sandwich, zip to a salad and dress up a dinner plate or top off an entree beautifully. Sprouts are big plants in early stages of development that packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other beneficial elements that differ by the plant type.
Not all sprouts taste the same, just like the plants they would one day grow into if you refrain from eating them as infants. Likewise, some types of micro greens have better flavor grown in soil or potting media than they do using hydroponic and plain water methods. Sunflower greens have far more flavor grown in soil or media. Since they are greens, you will need some sunlight too, which is not part of growing sprouts.
First, be sure to buy only unhulled small black or black oil seed that has not been coated and organic would be the best choice. If grown as sprouts, organic sunflower seed is a bit pricey at $5 or more per pound plus shipping when your yield weight is equal to what you plant. As micro greens, you will get twice as much harvest from your little growing operation. Considering that they retail for $12 to $15 a pound, you’ll be saving yourself a bundle and get a fresher and more nutritious food if you grow them at home.
What else do I need?
A growing tray for starters. You can buy sprouting trays pretty inexpensively, like these 10″ x 10″ small professional trays on Amazon for only $2 each and you will need two of them – one for growing and one for a lid. You might even be able to find the same type of tray somewhere close to home, so check around. However, this will grow 2 pounds of fresh sunflower greens per crop and it might be way too much for what you can use before they grow too large. You need something wide and flat that is not transparent and gives you 2″ – 2.5″ of depth. It will also need drainage holes, and don’t forget you need two that nest perfectly inside each other to grow one pan of sunflower greens.
You won’t need a grow light. You won’t need a sunny window. You won’t need fertilizer or nutrients. Germinating plants and growing them to the stage you will harvest your sunflower greens requires water, not sunshine or food. They don’t need sun to produce chlorophyll until about the time you’ll be shearing them off of their roots in 8-14 days. They don’t need nutrition either; nature packed them up inside the seed for them to get started on.
Be sure to keep them where they have room temperature conditions of about 70 degrees. Too cold and they won’t sprout nicely and too warm isn’t good either. Seeds germinate best in cool, moist conditions… which is why spring is for planting outdoors.
How to get growing.
1) Get your tray ready. Fill it 2/3 of the way full with good quality organic potting mix like Happy Frog or Espoma. Set it aside and deal with your seeds.
2) Sunflower seed have a very hard shell and the secret to getting good sprouting action and uniform sprouting rates is soaking them to activate the embryo and soften the shell. You’ll need more than a jar! Sunflower seeds float on water and you need to keep them all beneath the surface. A couple of nesting mixing glass bowls with one weighting down the soaking seed will work. Soak them out of direct sunlight for 8-12 hours.
How many seeds to soak? If you’re using a regular sprout growing tray like that one from Amazon, you’ll want to soak 1 pound of seeds since that tray is already known to produce 2 pounds of sunflower greens.
3) Once your soaking has completed. Drain the water off your awakened seeds. Set them aside and fully moisten the potting mix in the growing tray.
4) Take the second tray you have and place it bottom down over your freshly soaked seed. Weight it down and don’t worry about squishing them. It will not hurt your tender future greens.
5) Remove the ‘lid’ once a day and water well. You want to moisten all the seeds on top and th0roughly wet the potting mix below too. No doubt you’ll want a water catching system like a tray without holes of some sort, or your sink will constantly be occupied by your sprout farm.
6) In about 4-5 days you’ll have quite a lovely field of baby sunflower greens. After watering on day 5, put the cover on upside down and weight it down again. You want them to stay in the dark, but you need to give them room to stretch up now. The small drainage holes in the sprouts tray will give them light to reach for. And reaching they will be.
When are they ready to harvest? Well, pinch one off on day 8 and see how it tastes. Think it could flavor up a bit more or get thicker? You’re not ready to harvest just yet. After growing them a couple times, you’ll get a better feel for when they are perfect, but you will want to shear them all by day 10-12. In summer they will grow faster than in winter.
You can store your freshly sheared sunflower greens in the refrigerator. They will last for up to two weeks. No doubt you will notice they are more flavorful within the first few hours of shearing, but you probably will want to stretch out enjoying the harvest as long as possible. Unless you’ve got a houseful of hungry mouths to feed. In that case you might want to always have a new tray started every week to keep that good nutrition flowing to the table.
Bon appetite =)
Image courtesy of kthread
If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.