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Oh, winter. One of the reasons I like vegetable gardening is for the food. It isn't just that it's homegrown, or inexpensive, or that I can choose what to have and how much -- it's the genuine freshness of the stuff. It's living food. Nothing in a grocery store tastes as good as it does when it's freshly picked and full of life.

I really miss this during the cold season, so to keep up my spirits, I sprout and grow microgreens. Okay -- maybe some of you made an icky face because you remember eating alfalfa sprout sandwiches at hippy vegetarian coffeehouses back in the day -- but sprouts can be good. In fact, my kids eat them like popcorn. Voluntarily.

Some of my microgreen habits are a little weirder, but you can grow just about any green you like in a tray if you have a source of light. They are really delicious when they're just a few inches tall...

If you haven't sprouted before, you needn't buy any fancy equipment. All you need is a few jars, some cheesecloth or screen mesh from the hardware store, and some rubber bands. I have special lids for my jars now, but I sprouted with cheesecloth for years. I just covered the top with a square of cloth and secured it with a rubber band.

Today I have mung bean, lentil, wheat berry, and broccoli sprouts going. Here they are soaking overnight...

 photo b2e3d2ce-c09d-4637-82b6-9c8898a4a24d_zps068cb49f.jpg

And here they are draining...

 photo 68836284-1f6f-44c6-96c4-c8009665d70f_zpsbea705c8.jpg

Whatever cover you use, though, be sure that it lets the water drain out when you rinse. I rinse my sprouts two or three times a day by filling the jars with water and returning them to the rack so the water drains out. It keeps the sprouts moist, and it washes away any stagnant liquid or such that might start to fester in your jar.

I use half gallon jars for a lot of my sprouts. I don't eat a whole batch all at once, and they really poof up once the tails start to grow. You can start eating the lentil and mung sprouts within a day of when you finished soaking them, though. In fact, I like them best when they barely have a tail.

 photo sprouts.jpg

At this stage, they are great in chopped salads -- which I eat all the time in the winter. It's a great way to use up vegetables that are sitting in the fridge without a specific purpose, but aren't quite so far gone that they are ready to become soup. Mix these sprouts with any combination of celery, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, fennel, avocado -- whatever is handy -- and toss with your favorite dressing. There are three I make over and over again. Lemon-mustard, citrus-cilantro-garlic, and tahini-lemon...

Now for the dirt! So -- what do I do with the broccoli and wheat berries? I turn them into microgreens.

Freezing weather thwarted my plan to create a photo essay about microgreens this week. I really need to set up a hot house in my garden cage for when it gets too cold -- but that's another diary. The photos below are from earlier this year, but the process is exactly the same.

After soaking the seeds, I plant them densely in some potting soil, and let them sit under a towel for a day or two. I spritz them with water a couple of times a day, or I'll sometimes actually water them if it's particularly dry. When I take off the towel and switch to growing in light, the tray looks something like this:

 photo 3cedf0e8-96c7-4eea-bc7c-3b02952c9f69_zps86090bba.jpg

In another day or two:

 photo efefa4f5-f67c-42ff-8c51-d552c20d30ca_zps9349633b.jpg

And another day or two:

 photo 044138d4-cd71-4e04-8d8e-493b351e0f27_zps25d84f96.jpg

Wheatgrass usually takes about a week to get 6-8" tall, which is when I cut it back. You can let it regrow once more with good results, so starting one tray will have a life of 2-3 weeks.

And this is what broccoli does using the same growing process:

 photo f0b06974-95ad-4fa6-9882-631fbf5bfd89_zps8af97d7c.jpg

Radishes do well this way, too. When I do trays of mesclun and microgreen mix, though, I don't soak the seeds overnight. I just make sure they have water and keep a moist towel over the top. I have a stash of watercress seeds I'm going to try this way. Microgreens are wonderful things...

What do you do to get your fresh vegetable fix in the wintertime?

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