Wednesday, January 25, 2012

indoor farming

Years ago we had a pair of gerbils named Limp and Bizkit.  Did she say Limp and Bizkit?  Yes, she did.  They were named by my (then) fifth-grade son for a band he deemed worthy of ... something ... I'm not sure what.  I guess naming gerbils after.  These gerbils lived a long time, in spite of fifth-grader's inconsistent attention; one of them was twice as old as an average gerbil when he finally departed this world to reunite with his gerbil brother who had passed on a couple of years prior.

"Does this have anything to do with indoor farming?," you might ask.  I strive to connect dots, but don't always manage ...

Anyway, we kept these gerbils in a fish tank filled with peat moss, straw and topsoil so they could live life a little more naturally than in a wire cage.  They took to it very well and scurried about arranging the dirt and straw to suit them.  Seeing the tunnels and underground rooms they made was a lot of fun.

-ants instead of gerbils, but you get the idea-

photo from
"let the children play: ant farms at preschool"

BUT, the most incredible thing they did was farm!

We watched amazed as they prepared for famine by piling up seeds from the food we gave them into gerbil silos.  We watched them bury some of the seeds, and then when they sprouted, harvest the shoots!

These pictures you're seeing are of a little mushroom tray full of sprouts, my indoor farm.  It might be gerbil-sized, but it is growing food indoors, and that's the point.  Did you wonder if I would get to a point?  Well, here's one:  Like our gerbil friends, we can grow food indoors in the winter!  It's organic, full of vitamins, and perfect for adding to a salad, sandwich or smoothie.

All there is to it, based on an article on page 15 of the most recent Botanical Interests seed catalog, is this:

  • Get a recycled produce container
  • Add about an inch or so of sterile soil
  • Sprinkle on the seeds of almost any vegetable or herb
  • Cover seeds lightly with soil
  • Mist with water

I poured on lots of seeds, covered them with plastic wrap and kept them out of direct sun until the seed coats cracked open (about 3 days).  Be careful to keep them watered once you move them into the sun.  If you use a clam shell container (like blueberries come in), then you won't need plastic wrap.  Don't forget to open the top once the seeds sprout or you will cook your babies!  When the shoots are a couple of inches tall - micro greens - cut off at the base and consume!

I used a pack of mixed greens seeds left over from last year.  What a great way to use seeds you probably wouldn't wind up using!  The Botanical Interests article suggests amaranth, beet, broccoli, basil, cilantro, mustard, kale, peas, and more.  I've tried dried lentils (from the grocery store), fenugreek, alfalfa, mung beans.  Anything sold for sprouting can also be grown as micro greens as can most dried beans and peas.

If you sow your seeds in a few inches of potting soil and let them continue to grow past micro stage, they will eventually look like this beautiful pot of salad I photographed last year at the McMillan Greenhouse -- intoxicating, fresh as spring -- in January!



  1. Oh happy day! I have an unused pack of Rocky Top Mix lettuce from Baker Creek which I never got around to last summer. 1000 seeds!!! I'll give it a try.

  2. Well, I am so very impressed to know that gerbils garden! All those fresh greens must have been what kept Limp (or was it Bizkit?) alive for so long!

  3. Ahhh pets, fun names. Love the fresh greens, looks tasty.

  4. GUTI, let me know how it turns out!

    holley, it *was* limp! and i bet you're right...the fresh greens had to be a good thing.

    janet, that bowl of lettuce at uncc almost turned me into a grazing animal on the spot! :D

  5. We had a cat named Bizkit. Mom got him as a kitten at work and she named him with the help of the warehouse guys - Limp Bizkit was fairly new and very popular at the time. Thanks for the smile.