The snow is finally gone and plants inside and out are beginning to sprout. We have lots of seedlings growing under lights in our basement as well as cold hardy seedlings such as alliums and lettuce out in our hoop house ready for planting soon. Year round we have green sprouting plants in our home though, as we grow shoots and sprouts. I realized that though the sprouting operation is really paying for most of our other farming endeavors at the moment I have never written a post about it. Somehow the bigger farm picture of a diversity of annual vegetables, perennial fruits, and how they work together with our animal systems just seems sexier to write about. The reality is that sprouts have been a great way for us to start up as a farm and make year round income from a very small space (inside our house).
What is the difference between shoots and sprouts? Shoots are grown on potting soil and need light, so they are larger and more substantial in texture (some might call them micro-greens). Sprouts do not need soil, just water and daily rinsing, some like light and others don’t. We have grown sunflower and pea shoots for several years now and this winter we added buckwheat shoots which have a nice tart flavor and succulent texture. Our sprouts are grown in glass jars and are rinsed twice daily. We are happy to have a non-plastic option for growing them in, unfortunately we haven’t found a plastic alternative for trays yet, we found wooden trays to hold too much moisture and old plant debris which caused mold. In jars we grow clover, radish, mung bean and lentil (the last two needing darkness).
There are challenges to growing shoots as they are really a monoculture grown in a tight space with high humidity. Mold can be an issue, and sunflowers come with soil born disease most of the time. We are constantly experimenting with ways to cut down on loss and increase our yield. This year we started a higher seeding rate per tray, which greatly increased our yield. We have also been attending some workshops about nutrient dense growing practices and wanted to see if some of our issues with the sunflowers might be solved by adding the right balance of nutrients to the potting soil. We tried a potting soil additive by Advancing Eco-Agriculture called “Fortify”. To our dismay it did not solve the disease problem, but to our surprise it did double our yields! At the same time we added some more tables and lights to our grow room, so with increased yields in fewer trays we now have the capacity to grow quit a bit more.
We sell our sprouts and shoots through a variety of local stores and restaurants, and they are also available through our CSA. Our newest account is the non-profit distribution organization called Green Mountain Farm Direct. We are excited to offer our products to more institutions and businesses in the North East Kingdom, and we are especially excited about the schools that have participated in sampling our shoots!