Growing up, every year for Mother's Day my father would take our whole family to the local greenhouse, where my mom would pick out an array of vegetables, flowers and ornamentals to decorate our home garden that summer. No matter when the spring equinox fell, Michiganders know—considering their state's sneak-attack frosts and late-season freezes—that Mother's Day marks the official "safe zone" for outdoor planting. Mother's Day is, in that region, recognized as the onset of spring.
These days, I live in Hollywood while my parents hold down the familial fort in the Midwest. Since I couldn't make it back to the greenhouse to help mom pick out her garden this year, for Mother's Day I instead planted four trees in her name via the Tree People Organization—imagining someday an entire forest dedicated to my mother, four trees at a time.
A Kitchen Garden
Still, I am taken by the urge to personally put my hands in the soil as each Mother's Day, and therefore spring, rolls around. Even though Hollywood has an earlier spring and more year-round foliage than any other metropolis I've lived in, I like having a garden myself. So like many city dwellers, I've gotten creative. Whether one lives in Hollyweird or a farm town, engineering a small-space kitchen garden can provide a sense of connection with the soil and provide the freshest, most local food available. Why not sprout alfalfa, dehydrate flax crackers, ferment raw vegan cheeses and vermicompost food scraps in your own home? It's far too easy and much too satisfying to not.
My favorite springtime kitchen-garden crop has to be growing wheatgrass from seed. As opposed to sprouting clover or germinating legumes, wheatgrass requires soil and that's just plain fun. A new crop matures in just ten to 12 days, deepening my enthusiasm further. And everyone has heard about the spectacular health benefits of consuming this plant thanks to its high chlorophyll content (chlorophyll's been touted for lowering colon-cancer rates), heavy-metal detoxification, concentrated vitamin and mineral content (compared to other vegetables on a pound-per-pound basis), ability to increase blood flow and aid digestion, etc. It’s for these reasons and others that the famed natural healing center, The Ann Wigmore Institute uses raw foods and wheatgrass as its fundamental method of healing—everything. Considering all that—along with how absolutely easy it is to grow wheatgrass—and I just can’t stop myself!
Here’s how to grow wheatgrass in your own indoor kitchen garden:
- Buy organic hard red winter wheat-sprouting seeds specifically packed for sprouting. At first I just bought bulk wheat berries from my local health-food store, but those seeds are intended for cooking and therefore have not been treated the same as sprouting seeds. In my experience, organic sprouting seeds have a near 100% germination rate and next to no occurrence of mold growth during sprouting, very different from wheat berries processed for cooking. So get the real thing.
- Soak one cup of your wheat-berry-sprouting seeds in clean water in a glass bowl on a room-temperature shelf out of direct sunlight for a full 24 hours. I've found that allowing this soaking time minimizes the loss of seeds to dehydration and speeds up germination time (the length of time it takes for the seed to throw its first root). Also, these little packages of potential life are super sensitive to pollutants, so using the cleanest water possible throughout the entire process is vital to the integrity of the final plant.
- The ideal sprouting tray is easily configured at home. It must have drainage holes to minimize the risk of mold—and a water catch tray so little droplets of water don’t come through the tray’s drainage holes onto your shelf surface. I started with a simple Miracle Grow 2' x 1' sprouting-tray kit from Home Depot. Cut numerous slots in the bottom of the main tray with kitchen scissors. The clear upper cover can double as a greenhouse cap at first, and then be used as the water droplet catch tray after germination occurs.
- Choose an organic indoor soil medium and fill your tray at least three inches deep (wheatgrass throws lots of shallow roots—it's a grass, after all). Choose an indoor medium because outdoor mediums tend to have more fiber, which can decompose and contribute to mold growth. If you are a home composter and have a little rock dust and seaweed water available, this is the perfect place to use your own mixed soil. Water this soil thoroughly and allow the sprouting tray to drip-drain over the sink.
- Place your 24-hour-soaked seeds densely overlapping one another across the soil surface. Moisten one layer of unbleached paper and lay it gently on top of the soaked seeds. This will keep them moist at this very vulnerable time in their growth cycle, while still allowing airflow to help avoid mold. Cover the tray with your greenhouse cover (optional), making sure to turn it slightly askew so that the cover does indeed keep moisture and heat in, but again, allows airflow so as to avoid mold. The paper should be allowed to dry out over time. Place the tray in a room-temperature place, out of direct sunlight.
- Check your berries occasionally (at least twice daily). This is the part where you get to connect with your crop and really learn about the life in these seeds. Depending on your climate, house temperature/humidity and season, you will make choices as to what to do—you are basically regulating airflow and humidity now. Until germination (about two to three days), you want to let that paper dry out temporarily and then spray it moist again with a water bottle. Every time you spray the paper, spray the soil as well. However, if you lift the paper and see the beginning of any mold legs (due to lack of airflow) then leave the greenhouse cover off (and the paper off if necessary) and spray the soil directly instead (the mold will usually clear up completely with increased airflow at this stage). As soon as you notice that more than half of your seeds have germinated, you can remove the greenhouse cover and paper for good because at this stage most of the seedlings can get water for themselves via their fledgling roots. The two to three days until germination require by far the most attention of the entire process.
- After germination, continue to spray the surface of the soil with your water bottle twice per day (depending on climate). Water your soil thoroughly when the soil is dry to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch, but be gentle so as not to move the lightly rooted seeds. Be sure to let your tray drain over the sink and use your greenhouse cover as the catch when placed back on the shelf.
- Once the seeds have sprouted, wheatgrass grows fast. One day it will be an inch tall and the next, a full three inches! Then you can begin thanking it, chanting over it, dancing around it and, yes, cutting it for juicing. Continue to water the mature grass when the top ½” of the soil is dry. You can get at least six ounces of juice from this size crop by cutting off the tops each time it grows a few inches.
Hold the Mold
Obviously, the biggest risk with wheatgrass is dehydration or mold during germination. I don't get mold any more by following these steps, but when I did, I just allowed the wheatgrass to grow anyway and cut above the mold line. It really didn't affect the juice or bother me.
My favorite thing about growing wheatgrass is not just the way the bright green color beautifies my kitchen, but the chance to be a part of the complete natural life process of a plant: from seed through germination, sprouting, juicing, scrap composting and turning that back to soil—and then growing my next batch of seeds in that very dirt.
Sure, wheatgrass is supposed to be one of the healthiest green plants to consume on the planet. But what is truly magical for me is drinking the juice from a plant of which I've participated in the entire lifecycle—the way my mother must feel having created and participated in my lifecycle. Let us all mother each other and ourselves with the same attentive care.
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